When I was struggling to schedule an appointment for my first Pfizer dose, my fully vaccinated friend who recently had a baby bragged to me that she would be passing COVID-19 antibodies to her son through her breast milk. This raised an obvious yet inappropriate question: Dude, can I have some?
For the sake of our friendship, I took the question to the internet instead, and quickly found that I wasn’t the only weirdo wondering this. The online marketplace for breast milk is traditionally meant to give lactating women who over-produce a place to sell their milk to women who struggle to breastfeed. But given that the sale of breast milk is largely unregulated, there is also a well-documented history of bodybuilders and wellness bros attempting to procure “liquid gold” for their own gains.
Now, as a growing amount of research reveals that vaccinated mothers can pass antibodies onto their infants through breast milk, adults who already were interested in this particular boost have another big reason to seek out freshly vaccinated milk, at around $3.50 an ounce. It’s worth noting that men are less likely to wash their hands and wear masks compared to women, and yet Christie Denham, the founder of milk-selling site Happy Bellies Happy Babies, has had an influx of requests from men specifically seeking coronavirus protection in the form of breast milk.
Simply put, some men would literally rather be breastfed by a stranger on the internet than get vaccinated. Nice. In less extreme instances, dads are taking to Reddit to inquire about divvying up their wives’ breast milk among their family for added protection. Regardless, Denham isn’t here to judge people for trying to harness the health benefits of breast milk. “When they come to me and are professional about it, I honestly don’t really ask them what they’re using it for because I believe in respecting people’s privacy,” she told the Daily Beast about the requests. “If they said to me, ‘I want to do it only for the COVID-19 reasons, I would say, ‘Absolutely, whatever you need to do to protect you and your family.’”
According to OB-GYN Dr. Kimberly Langdone, this is not as absurd of a premise as it sounds. “Breast milk for adults has been linked to a reduction in certain inflammatory conditions, even cancer,” Langdone explains, citing data that identified a protein in breast milk that might kill tumor cells, along with another study that found a compound that could destroy skin warts as well. There was also that time in the early 2000s when physicist Howard Cohen claimed to cure his own prostate cancer with breast milk.
The problem is that the research on vaccinated breast milk is still very preliminary and mostly based on one small study of only six lactating women, along with supplemental data on another 18 mothers that was not specific to the vaccine. Results of these studies suggest that breast milk from vaccinated mothers contained higher levels of antibodies like IgA and IgG, which could have protective effects against COVID-19. But while the results are encouraging, OB-GYN Kecia Gaither notes the new information raises more questions than it answers.
“What is the efficacy of the antibodies in preventing infection? Do other comorbidities influence the efficacy of the antibodies? Is there a higher concentration of antibodies generated earlier in pregnancy — rather than later during gestation — excreted in breast milk?” Gaither asks. “Is there a dose-dependent response?”
The latter question raises an interesting issue about volume. Babies are obviously much smaller than grown men, and the average newborn between six and nine pounds consumes about 14 and 22 ounces of breastmilk per day. Comparatively, the average American man weighs in at just under 200 pounds, which would amount to a hell of a lot of liquid gold to achieve the same effects — assuming it is dose-dependent. Plus, taking into account that a lot of this breast milk is intended for babies who need it, sucking down hundreds of ounces of the stuff is a dick move even if it turns out to be beneficial.
“We need to be clear that at this time we don’t know how long the antibodies will remain in the mothers or the infants. More research is needed,” Dr. Javeed Siddiqui, an infectious disease specialist at TeleMed2U, says. Beyond that, it’s verifiably unsafe to buy bodily fluids online with the intention of ingesting them. Consider that viruses like HIV and CMV can be passed on this way. “As an infectious diseases physician, I have to warn anyone who may engage in this practice, that there are infectious diseases that are transmitted via breast milk,” Siddiqui warns. “Please do not engage in this practice. This is potentially dangerous and at this time not substantiated.”
So if you want to drink your wife’s freshly vaccinated breast milk or divide the supply amongst your family for potential benefits, that’s your business. At least you know where it’s coming from and you’re not dipping into a supply meant for babies who need it, or jacking up the prices for struggling parents. But if you want to ask your mom friend for a shot of hers, that’s a great way to never get invited over again. Personally, I’m going to play it safe and take a double-shot of the vaccine instead.
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