Breastfeeding & COVID-19: FAQs
Breastfeeding mothers already juggle the demands and challenges that come with breastfeeding. Adding the coronavirus pandemic into the mix has some mothers feeling confused or overwhelmed. In this article, we answer some common questions about breastfeeding and COVID-19.
Is it safe to breastfeed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes, breastfeeding is still considered safe during the pandemic. In fact, global medical organizations, like the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as U.S. organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding during the pandemic. Most nutritional experts believe that breastfeeding protects infants from infection in general, and COVID-19 is no exception.
Can COVID-19 be transmitted through breast milk?
According to the CDC, there is currently limited data surrounding COVID-19 and breast milk. However, the data they do have suggests that it is not likely that the disease can be passed through breast milk.
Is it safe for a mother who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 to continue to breastfeed?
As with any serious medical diagnosis, a breastfeeding mother who has received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis should talk to her doctor and pediatrician about the best course of action for her and the baby. Generally speaking, she can still continue to breastfeed, but should take some precautions.
Although current data suggests that the disease is not transported through breast milk, we do know that the disease is transported in other ways, including through respiratory droplets. Note: droplets easily transfer during close contact, including feeding at the breast.
Because of this, we recommend that infected mothers who choose to continue to breastfeed take the following precautions:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before each feeding session
- Wear a face mask during each feeding session (and at any other time you’re in close contact with your baby)
Is it safe for a mother with COVID-19 to give pumped breast milk to her baby?
Current data suggest that COVID-19 is not transmitted through breast milk. Therefore, it is considered safe to feed the child milk from an infected mother.
In fact, if the mother needs to be separated from her child for any reason surrounding the illness, pumping can be a good solution for giving the baby beneficial breast milk. This also helps maintain the mother’s milk supply.
Pumping mothers should take the same precautions as mothers feeding at the breast. This includes washing hands thoroughly before touching any part of the pump. Mothers should also wear a face mask while pumping.
Johns Hopkins offers further guidance for pumping mothers, including:
- Wash and disinfect the counter or tabletop you’ll use, before you start pumping
- Clean all parts of the pump thoroughly, before and after each pumping session
- Sanitize pump parts at least once a day, using a steam bag, boiling water, or the “sanitize” setting on the dishwasher (if parts are dishwasher safe)
- Clean the pump as soon as possible after each pumping session
Are there benefits to breastfeeding during the pandemic?
Breastfeeding is considered to be the safest option for feeding a baby in an emergency, according to UNICEF. Not only does breast milk nourish and protect the baby, it is also consistently available—which may not be the case for formula, especially in areas experiencing grocery shortages.
Generally, breastfeeding can help relax and calm the mother, too. This can help to relieve feelings of stress or overwhelm in uncertain times.
What should a breastfeeding mother do if she starts to show symptoms of COVID-19?
First and foremost, a mother who experiences any of the symptoms of COVID-19 should consult her primary care physician and seek a COVID test. Most test results come back within 48 hours. During that time, the mother should isolate herself, as recommended. However, The CDC indicates that infected mothers can likely stay with their infant baby during isolation. It will be at the discretion of healthcare workers in the event that the mother needs to be hospitalized. Notably, the CDC suggests that mothers stay with their nursing infants, even in the hospital if possible.
COVID-19 is a new and complex virus. It affects people in different ways, based on age and health condition. Additionally, as we have seen, research and treatment for the disease is evolving rapidly. This means that the most reliable source of up-to-date information is your primary care physician, especially because they will know your individual health considerations.
Are there any other special precautions breastfeeding mothers should take?
In general, breastfeeding mothers should follow the guidelines set forth for the general public in order to help them avoid contracting the virus:
- Stay at home as much as possible
- Stay at least 6 feet away from others when in public
- Wear a face mask in public
- Wash hands often and thoroughly, with soap and water
- Don’t touch your face
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Disinfect surfaces frequently
- Avoid sick people
What support can other people give to breastfeeding mothers during the pandemic?
If a breastfeeding mother needs extra support during the pandemic, first coordinate with her to find out what she needs. The pandemic complicates the ways others can help a mother due to social distancing. However, if you want to support a nursing mother, or you’re a nursing mother who needs some help, but aren’t sure what kind of help to ask for, here are some ways people can help:
- Running errands to minimize her risk of infection
- Caring for the baby if the mother suspects she is sick (during a pandemic, this should be done cautiously and all precautions should be taken to limit exposure to the disease)
- Caring for other children while the mother feeds the baby
- Providing emotional and moral support
- Encouraging and praising her breastfeeding efforts
- Make sure she is staying hydrated and getting adequate sleep
- Help with cleaning and disinfecting (bottles, pump parts, pumping surfaces, etc.)
Despite the pandemic, breastfeeding remains extremely beneficial to both the mother and the child. The best news for nursing mothers is that it is generally safe to keep providing breastmilk to their babies without fear of complication or separation. So, whether you’re trying to figure out if breastfeeding is a viable option for you during the pandemic, or you’re trying to support a breastfeeding loved one, it’s important to be informed. Stay healthy!