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Breastfeeding & COVID-19: FAQs

Jul 21

Breastfeeding mothers are already juggling the demands and challenges that come with breastfeeding, and adding the coronavirus pandemic into the mix may have some mothers feeling confused or overwhelmed. Today, we’re answering 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, it continues to be encouraged by medical organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). 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?

If a breastfeeding mother has received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, she should talk to her doctor and pediatrician about the best course of action for her and the baby. Generally speaking, however, she can still continue to breastfeed, but should take some precautions.

Though 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. These are easily transferred 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?

Because current data suggest that COVID-19 is not transmitted through breast milk, 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, and for maintaining the mother’s milk supply.

Pumping mothers should take the same precautions as mothers feeding at the breast, including 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 is breast milk nourishing and protective, it is also consistently available—which may not be the case for formula, especially in areas experiencing grocery shortages.

Breastfeeding can also be a relaxing experience for mothers, helping 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?

The CDC recommends anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 do their best to isolate themselves from others. For breastfeeding mothers, this would include isolation from their infants. Whenever possible, babies and children should be cared for by another healthy adult until the mother is symptom-free.

As mentioned above, exceptions can potentially be made for nursing sessions, as long as precautions are taken. Mothers in isolation can also continue to pump breast milk for their babies.

This decision is a personal one, and should be made with the help of the mother’s doctor and the child’s pediatrician.

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, 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?

Other people can offer physical and emotional support to a breastfeeding mother during the pandemic, including:

  • Caring for the baby if the mother suspects she is sick
  • 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.)
  • Running errands to minimize her risk of infection

Breastfeeding can be extremely beneficial to both the mother and the child, even in a time of pandemic. Whether you’re trying to figure out if breastfeeding is a viable option for you, or you’re trying to support a breastfeeding loved one, it’s important to be informed. Stay healthy!

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