Finally, after nine months inside your tummy, now you can hold and care for your baby in your arms. Though the world may be a scary place to give birth to your little one because of the pandemic, you made it through, mama. Congratulations! Now, on to the next step: breastfeeding your baby during COVID-19.
With social distancing as a general protocol to minimize infections, you might have some hesitations about holding and breastfeeding your child, especially if you’re not in your best health. Can you actually pass on the virus while breastfeeding? What are the precautions you should take? We asked Dr. Marini Esguerra, a pediatrician and breastfeeding advocate, some important questions every breastfeeding mom should ask.
Since the research on COVID-19 is still ongoing, there is still no evidence that the virus can be passed on through breast milk. However, it can be passed on through infected droplets and this is what doctors are concerned about. It’s not whether the virus is transmitted through breast milk, but whether the breast milk or any milk was contaminated while giving or preparing it.
“Direct breastfeeding has the least handling and least risk for contamination because there is no preparation involved. So, whether breastfeeding or not, an infected mother or other caregivers can transmit the virus to the baby through respiratory droplets while caring, feeding, or bathing the baby.” -Dr. Esguerra, Pediatrician
Yes, but with the necessary precautions. While little is known about COVID-19, there are a lot of information and supporting facts known about breastfeeding and the risks of the absence of it like pneumonia or diarrhea in babies.
According to the information released by the World Health Organization (WHO), moms can still breastfeed their infants provided that they implement appropriate hygiene measures including wearing a medical mask to reduce the possibility of droplets spreading to her infant.
While mothers who are suspected or are positive with COVID-19 are still encouraged to breastfeed, Dr. Esguerra pointed out the importance of the family making a shared decision together with their healthcare team.
“You have to follow the precautions strictly and should always work together with your doctor to discuss all options. If the decision is to separate you from your baby while waiting for your test results, then your breast milk should be expressed and given to the baby. A healthy care giver should care for the baby when the mother is not breastfeeding.” -Dr. Esguerra, Pediatrician
She also pointed out that each hospital has its own isolation policy that should be discussed with the family.
“If the mother decides not to breastfeed and not to express breastmilk for the baby, she should be taught how to maintain her breast milk supply so that she can resume breastfeeding when she is no longer positive for COVID-19.” -Dr. Esguerra, Pediatrician
Tip: Even if you’re feeling perfectly fine and don’t show any symptoms, it’s still best to do all the precautionary actions to keep your baby safe. Wearing a mask and washing your hands always will give you the peace of mind.
Just like the preventive practices mandated to the general public during the time of COVID-19, a symptomatic mother must wear a medical mask while feeding her infant and should also hand wash for 20 seconds before handling her baby. Make sure that the chest area is also disinfected and all surfaces that the baby will be in contact with should be cleaned regularly.
“If a mother is not feeling well enough to directly breastfeed, her expressed breast milk must be given to the baby. When not breastfeeding, she should stay 6 feet away from the baby both in the hospital and at home. The father can take charge of the skin-to-skin contact with the baby for the meantime.” -Dr. Esguerra, Pediatrician
For obvious reasons, the family should impose a strictly no visitors rule until all are cleared from COVID-19.
Direct breastfeeding is still the safest method for your baby even if you’re positive for COVID-19. But as emphasized by Dr. Esguerra, making a shared decision with your healthcare team is very
important. If you both agree to directly breastfeeding, make sure to do the following
- Wash your hands every time before touching your baby, your pump, or any appliances. This applies to everyone in contact with the COVID-19 positive patient and the baby.
- Avoid sneezing or coughing while breastfeeding or expressing milk
- Wear a medical grade face mask
- When expressing breast milk in the hospital, use only one dedicated pump to minimize the chances of infecting other people
Tip: If you are suspected to have COVID-19, take things one at a time. For sure it will feel overwhelming but with extra care and mindfulness, remember that you and your baby can recover from this.
Dr. Esguerra answered this question in a few but very assuring words:
“Trust your body. Mothers are built to protect their babies.” -Dr. Esguerra, Pediatrician
You and your baby will be okay as long as you follow all protocols like regular hand washing and wearing of masks. These are simple instructions but many people fail to follow it. Whether you have symptoms or not, it’s always better to be sure than sorry. The most important is to discuss all your options with your healthcare providers even before you enter the delivery room. This way, you know what to expect and you know how to protect your baby from COVID-19.
Did we answer everything you wanted to know? Share some of your experiences while breastfeeding during COVID-19!
Frequently Asked Questions:Breastfeeding and COVID-19 for Health Care Workers (April 28, 2020)