Breastfeeding with COVID-19

Breastfeeding with COVID-19

Kathleen Zelman, RD

N4K Medical Advisory Board and former Director of nutrition for the number one health and wellness website

Breastfeeding your baby is strongly encouraged by healthcare professionals because it is the best source of nutrition for most babies.  It also provides immunity against many illnesses. 

But what steps should you take if you have symptoms of or test positive for COVID-19?  

Since this is a new virus, research is just beginning and knowledge about best practices are still unknown.  It is not yet proven if mothers with COVID-19 pass along the virus through breast milk.  At this time, the data suggests it is unlikely.  Transmission of the virus to infants is considered to occur primarily through respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing or talking) from individuals with COVID-19. With other illnesses, including the flu, breastfeeding has been shown to be safe for babies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages mothers suspected of or confirmed COVID-19 to start or continue to breastfeed.  www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/breastfeeding-and-covid-19

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have issued the following 'interim guidance on breastfeeding and breast milk with COVID-19'. As additional information becomes available, this advice will be updated by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/maternal-or-infant-illnesses/covid-19-and-breastfeeding.html)

Here are recommended steps to avoid spreading the virus to your baby: 

  • Wash your hands before touching your baby
  • Wear a cloth face covering, if possible, while feeding at the breast
  • Wash your hands before touching pump or bottle parts and clean all parts after each use (https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/healthychildcare/infantfeeding/breastpump.html)
  • Properly clean and sanitize breast pumps
  • If possible, expressed breast milk should be fed to the infant by a healthy caregiver
  • Newborns whose mother is suspected to have COVID-19 should not room with the mother to reduce the risk of transmission

The American Academy of Pediatrics (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Breastfeeding-During-COVID-19.aspx) recommends pumping or expressing breast milk after thoroughly washing hands and breasts and then have a healthy caregiver feed your baby. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2020/04/23/covid19breastfeeding042320

Bottom line

Mothers are encouraged to discuss their situation with their healthcare team and family to make the best decision during the pandemic. In general, the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the potential risk for transmission of the virus.

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