Review Paper: The Antiviral Properties of Breast Milk

Toni Harman
3 min readFeb 10, 2022

Quick Summary: A recent review paper provides a really good overview of one of the super-powers of human lactation — how human breast milk has evolved to fight viruses.

Fascinating review paper published in 2021 by Sophie Wedekind and Natalie Shenker on a great topic: the antiviral properties of breast milk.

This new review paper provides a really good overview of one of the super-powers of human lactation — how human breast milk has evolved to fight viruses.

To quote from the abstract by “Human milk supports both adaptive and innate immunity, with specific constituents that drive immune learning and maturation, and direct protection against microorganisms. “

So what are the antiviral properties of breast milk?

Straight-away you might think antibodies in breast milk.

But breast milk is so much more complex — with 20 different mechanisms and hundreds of antiviral bioactive components.

As the paper explains, what’s really amazing is that each feed with a biological mother’s breast milk is personalised to meet a baby’s unique needs, based on genetics, environment and even the season of the year.

What’s really exciting (at least to me) is that there has been very little research into many of the complex components of breast milk,so huge gaps in our knowledge will be filled in the coming months, years, and decades ahead!

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Science reference:

Wedekind SIS, Shenker NS. Antiviral Properties of Human Milk. Microorganisms. 2021 Mar 31;9(4):715. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms9040715. PMID: 33807146. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33807146/

https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2607/9/4/715

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Want to know the science of breast milk?

Have a look at our full-length Breast Milk and the Infant Microbiome online course — featuring 7 top lactation scientists.

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>>> https://microbirth.teachable.com/p/breastmilk12/

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Toni Harman

I help parents and health professionals better understand the science of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and the microbiome. https://linktr.ee/toniharman