Experts and mothers from all around the world agree that breast milk is best when it comes to feeding a baby in the first year of life. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, as an expectant or new mom, you may be questioning your decision to breastfeed. Will I unknowingly pass the virus to my baby when breastfeeding?
Here is what you need to know about how to protect your baby and yourself from COVID-19 while breastfeeding.
Transmission of COVID-19 through breastmilk
To date, it is not known for sure if mothers with COVID-19 can spread the virus to babies in their breast milk, but the limited data available suggests this is not likely. Naturally, breast milk provides protection against many illnesses. The protective effect is especially strong against infectious diseases that are prevented through the transfer of antibodies via breastmilk.
Benefits of breastfeeding
Given the low rates of transmission of respiratory viruses through breast milk, the World Health Organization states that mothers with COVID-19 can breastfeed.
Breastfeeding creates a special, close, emotional bond between the mother and child; provides essential, balanced nutrients; is cost-effective; and offers short and long-term health benefits for both babies and mothers. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a breastfed baby may be less prone to conditions such as diarrhea, respiratory tract infection, urinary tract infection, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, lymphoma. Leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, and childhood overweight and obesity. The AAP also recommends breastfeeding because of its association with the reduced risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
There are also maternal health benefits to breastfeeding such as decreased postpartum bleeding, earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight, and decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Safety measures for breastfeeding with COVID-19
Women who are breastfeeding while sick with COVID-19 should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus. While the recommendations for safe breastfeeding may change as new information becomes available, these are the current recommendations mothers should follow while breastfeeding:
- Washing your hands frequently. Hand hygiene can be performed by washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60% to 95% alcohol.
- Wearing a face mask while nursing. Although it doesn’t seem likely that the virus can be transmitted through breast milk, it can be transmitted through viral droplets released from your mouth or nose.
Questions and concerns
Breastfeeding can sometimes be challenging for a new mom, and during a pandemic, it can be even more stressful. New or expectant moms with questions about COVID-19 should reach out to their health care provider or lactation consultants at their hospital.
Kimberly Benedict RN, BSN, IBCLC is a registered lactation consultant in the Family Birthing Center at Touro. She has worked at Touro since 1989, when she began her nursing career in the NICU and Well Baby Nursery. Her passion is helping new mothers and families reach their breastfeeding goals.