Fact check: CDC backs breast-feeding, despite false story

Women breastfeed their babies at the Hir
Women breastfeed their babies at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington on Feb. 12, 2011, during a "nurse-in" organized after a woman was stopped from nursing in public at the museum by security guards two weeks prior.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images 2011

A widely shared story that U.S. health officials are recommending a delay in breast-feeding to improve vaccine effectiveness is false.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency named in the false reports, encourages breast-feeding. The CDC says breast milk is best for all infants except in rare cases such as when a mother has active, untreated tuberculosis.

"There is no recommendation from the CDC or the (American Academy of Pediatrics) that mothers delay breast-feeding to enhance vaccine efficacy," said Dr. Joan Younger Meek, a Tallahassee, Fla., physician who chairs a breast-feeding panel for the pediatricians group.

"Breast milk contains multiple immune protective factors, including whole cells which fight infection," Meek said.

All breast-fed infants should receive vaccines according to the regular schedule, and there is no need to interrupt or delay breastfeeding, Meek said. Breast-fed babies sometimes respond better to immunizations than do infants on formula, she said.

Versions of the false story posted by healthywildandfree.com and foodrenegade.com link to a 2010 study published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. Researchers were looking into why a vaccine against rotavirus wasn't working as well in developing countries as in industrialized countries. Rotaviruses cause half a million deaths each year in children worldwide, so improving a vaccine's effectiveness would save lives.

The small study, published in 2010, looked at how the vaccine interacted with breast milk samples in a test tube or culture dish. Based on results on tests of breast milk from women in India and other countries, researchers suggested it was possible that the milk could make the vaccine less effective.

But the study wasn't the final word. Later studies showed no reason to restrict breast-feeding in the hours before and after rotavirus vaccination.

The World Health Organization has said that breastfeeding doesn't significantly impair the response to the rotavirus vaccines.