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Breast milk could hold key to protecting us against coronavirus

One reason breast milk is so powerful is that it carries antibodies that help babies fight off disease. And antibodies might just be the next battlefront in our returning to normal after the COVID-19 epidemic.

breast milk coronavirus antibodies

Whether you breastfeed or not (because fed is definitely best), there's no denying that breast milk is just cool. It's basically the closest humans can come to producing a magic potion. It changes depending on the baby's needs, it helps fight allergies, beats back disease and promotes immune response. Even those of us who struggled to breastfeed can appreciate its punk-rock powers. In a word, breast milk is metal.

Breast milk is the human body's antibody-carrying magic potion and it is being studied right now because it could help in the fight against coronavirus.

One reason breast milk is so powerful is that it carries antibodies that help babies fight off disease. Antibodies (for those of us who did not ace high school biology) are an important part of the human body's immune response system. When a virus, bacteria or other threat attacks the body, our blood cells produce antibodies to fight the infection. These antibodies also promote immunity to that virus in the short term.

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Coronavirus antibody tests may help people determine whether they might be protected from further infection. While health experts caution that further research into antibody testing is needed, antibodies could be a key weapon in the battle against coronavirus.

Rebecca Powell, a researcher at New York City's Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is examining the presence of antibodies in the breast milk of women who have been exposed to coronavirus, as reported by Vice News and Business Insider. While much of the current antibody research is focused on antibodies in human blood, Powell is focused on the antibodies carried by human breast milk, which may have some biological advantages. The type of antibody found in breast milk is "much more durable" than antibodies in human blood, Powell explained in a recent interview, because it's designed to survive a trip through an infant's digestive system.

Powell's theory is that breastfeeding women in New York City, the pandemic's current global epicenter, might have developed antibodies in response to the virus, which their breast milk is now passing on to their children. Whether a woman has tested positive for the disease or not, if she's been exposed and is currently healthy, that means her body might have already swung into action creating antibodies. Those antibodies might then be passed into breast milk to help protect her infant against the disease.

Powell has collected over 800 breast milk donations to use in her research, and hundreds more women have responded, wanting to help do their part in the scientific fight against coronavirus. "I have hundreds of emails of people who want to participate, and many of them have said they had highly suspected infection or a positive test," Powell told Vice News.

"If we find that there's really potent antibodies in the milk, can those be used therapeutically in a way that Mt. Sinai and other hospitals are now using convalescent plasma—to treat those who are really ill?" Powell asked.

We already know that nursing women produce antibodies for other viruses such as the flu and that those are passed into breast milk for the infant's protection. It's exciting to think that women could be producing powerful antibodies for coronavirus in a similar way.

Is it any surprise that moms make magic? Nah. We're kinda metal like that.

This post was originally published in April 2020 and has been updated.

<p> Siobhan Adcock is the Experts Editor at Motherly and the author of two novels about motherhood, <a href="https://www.siobhanadcock.com/" target="_blank">The Completionist</a> and <a href="https://www.siobhanadcock.com/the-barter" target="_blank">The Barter</a>. Her writing has also appeared in Romper, Bustle, Ms., McSweeney's, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, The Chicago Review of Books and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter. </p>

This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.



Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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