Clinical Perspectives: Breastfeeding and Coronavirus
Written by Mommy Matters Health Contributor: Mathilde Hainaut
You might feel like there’s a lot of conflicting information circulating about breastfeeding an infant or caring for a newborn if you’ve tested positive for the coronavirus. Here we summarize an article by the New York Times, published on April 6th, which covers the most recent guidelines out there. One important thing to keep in mind is that advice will differ depending on which organization you consult, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (A.A.P.), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or the World Health Organization (WHO).
Here are the key takeaways:
- If you test positive for the virus, it remains your choice whether you wish to stay in the same room as your newborn and breastfeed. Currently, the WHO states that infected mothers can stay in the same room and breastfeed, as long as proper hygiene precautions such as wearing a mask while breastfeeding and washing your hands before and after touching your baby. Of course, if the mother is too sick to care for her newborn, she should be supported to provide breast milk in another way.
- The A.A.P., on the other hand, recommends to temporarily separate the mother from her newborn, and either pump or manually express her breastmilk. The CDC currently states hospitals “should consider” temporarily separating mothers and babies into different rooms if the mother is infected or suspected of having the infection.
- The decision to breastfeed should be taken after a discussion of risks and benefits. While studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact with your newborn can promote mother-infant bonding, this benefit has to be weighed against the possibility of infecting a newborn. Data surrounding this topic is scarce, it seems like the risk of severe cases of Covid-19 in newborns is relatively rare.
- Some women may worry that being temporarily separated from their newborn might make it more difficult to breastfeed later. However, that should not be something to worry about. if you’re given the support you need to express milk, especially in the first couple of hours after delivery, it will make it much easier to keep the milk flowing and produce it even if you are separated from your baby for one week or two.
- Lots of individuals have been wondering if the coronavirus can be transmitted to an infant via breast milk. As of now, the virus has not been detected in breastmilk, but it is still unclear if the virus can be transmitted this way. In any case, out of precaution, if you are pumping your milk instead of breastfeeding, it is important to wash your hands before touching the pump, and to clean the pump thoroughly after. You can find C.D.C.’s recommendations for proper pump cleaning here.
- In terms of receiving help with breastfeeding, the safest thing to do is to consult lactation consultants using a video platform instead of in-person visits. Additionally, you may consider purchasing, if possible, inexpensive scales online in order to weight the baby every 2-3 days and make sure the baby’s weight is increasing.
- It is known that breast milk contains immunological and nutritional benefits. That is why researchers expect to find antibodies to Covid-19 in the breast milk of infected mothers. However, that is still not known for sure. Still, experts agree that it is important to give a newborn as much breast milk as possible right now, and to continue to do so as long as breastfeeding is going well.
- In any case, breastfeeding remains an individual decision, and every woman should make the decision that’s best for her and her family. This article is based on currently available data and information, which is rapidly changing. Consulting with your ob-gyn and your baby’s pediatrician is always best practice. You can also consult ACOG’s updated page about Coronavirus (COVID-19), Pregnancy, and Breastfeeding here, as information is changing daily.