The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic loss of human life worldwide and presents an unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems and the world of work.

COVID-19 is disrupting various routines worldwide. Every front of human life is under dispute and disharmony. The pandemic warrants quick actions under clinical observations. When a breakthrough becomes available, it may require subsequent guidelines to establish proper care. Breastfeeding is essential to optimize neonatal health.

First of all, we should understand how the clinical characteristics of COVID-19 apply to breastfeeding. We should even understand the protective properties of breastfeeding. The evidence available till today suggests that the risk of transmission of COVID-19 via breastmilk is very low. Breastfeeding is known for its irreplaceable health benefits both for the mother and the baby.

Breastfeeding during Covid pandemic

For mothers with breastfeeding babies, the novel coronavirus outbreak is a cause for great concern. One of the most common questions is whether  can I breastfeed my baby without the risk of exposing my baby to the virus. Given that this is a novel virus, there is limited information available on its transmission. So far the ongoing studies have not detected the virus in breast milk. Breastfeeding is the best option for your baby. However, it is important to take the necessary precautions.

Coronavirus has not been found in breast milk. You can breastfeed if you test positive for COVID-19 or are not fully vaccinated, as long as you take extra safety precautions to protect your baby.

Why should you breastfeed your baby during covid pandemic?

  • Breastfeeding is good for babies. It protects them from many infections. It is not proven that breastmilk protects babies from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, several studies have found antibodies that target the virus in human milk. In addition, breastfed infants are generally less likely to have severe respiratory symptoms when they get sick.
  • Breastfeeding is good for moms. Hormones released in the mother’s body during breastfeeding promote wellness and can relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Breastfeeding is good for moms. Hormones released in the mother’s body during breastfeeding promote wellness and can relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Breastfeeding is good for moms. Hormones released in the mother’s body during breastfeeding promote wellness and can relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies and protects them against illness. Disruption of breastfeeding can lead to a drop in milk supply, refusal by the infant to take the breast, and a decrease in protective immune factors contained in breastmilk.

Is My Baby At Risk Of COVID-19?

Yes, your baby can be at risk, if you are COVID-19 positive. However as there is no evidence of the virus found in breast milk, it is not a contraindication as per the studies done to date. Having said that, you need to protect your baby by washing your hands, wearing a mask and protective gowns and then feeding the baby.

There is a risk of transmission through cough or sneeze droplets in the air. Thus, isolating yourself and the baby is advisable. But, if you feel, that this makes it difficult for you to bond with your baby, you can take protective measures and still share a room with your baby.

Knowledge about COVID-19 is still incomplete but there have been fewer cases reported amongst children as compared to adults. In most cases, the child contracted the virus through an infected family member or someone they lived with. Children have shown milder symptoms as compared to adults and elderly people.

If your baby has been in contact with someone who has recently travelled or who shows signs of flu, speak to your doctor and isolate your baby from the people concerned.

How does the risk of COVID-19 effect breastfeeding?

The women who are unable to breastfeed their baby may avail themselves of alternative methods. They may seek help from certified donor milk bank services or other centres dedicated to uplifting breastmilk supply. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the babies during the first 6 months of life.

Even after including solid food in the diet of a child, mothers may continue breastfeeding their kids for 6 additional months. They may uphold this practice till the child reaches the age of 2. Mothers with COVID-19 must realize the importance of breastfeeding and opt for the same under stiff obstetric supervision.

Is it safe to use donor milk?

It would be a better idea to use donor milk. This refers to milk that has been expressed by other mothers and pasteurized. Pasteurizing donor milk deactivates any viruses and germs that may have contaminated the milk and thus make it safe for your baby.

Donor milk is as nutritious as your own breastmilk and will keep your baby’s immune system strong.  In light of the coronavirus outbreak, donor milk banks are also performing additional screening tests to protect babies who will feed on it.

Hygiene Tips And Precautions For Breastfeeding COVID-19 Positive Mothers

  • Hand hygiene is most important- Wash your hands thoroughly before touching the baby.
  • Wear a protective mask while feeding the baby to ensure that the baby is protected from respiratory droplets.
  • Limit contact with other people including those at home. You may consider staying in an isolated room and using different household items such as bedding, towels, utensils, etc.
  • If you feel the symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive for the virus, you may consider not breastfeeding your baby directly. Instead, express milk with a breast pump and let someone else spoon-feed the baby. This expressed breastmilk can be refrigerated or frozen depending on when it will be used. When refrigerated, it can be used for up to 3 days. If frozen, it can be used for 6 months. Frozen milk should be thawed before feeding the baby.
  • Even if you are too sick to continue direct breastfeeding, expressed breast milk is a better option to meet the baby’s nutritional requirement as compared to formula.
  • Wash your hands before using the pump. The pump should also be cleaned before and after each use.
  • If a bottle is used to feed the baby, clean all its parts before and after each use with a disinfectant. According to the latest information available, the virus stays on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours.
  • All surfaces like tables, sinks, etc. should be cleaned after you finish expressing the milk. Routine cleaning and disinfection of the touched surfaces should be followed.
  • If you are COVID-19 positive, look out for signs and symptoms in your baby and approach the nearest medical centre for assistance for your baby.
  • Once you have tested negative for COVID-19, you can continue to breastfeed your baby.

The best way to protect your baby is to get the COVID-19 vaccine. If you aren’t fully vaccinated or test positive for COVID, it is still a good idea to breastfeed your baby if you can. Just be sure to take steps to minimize COVID-19 infection. Talk with your pediatrician about how to keep your baby healthy and what resources might be available in your community to help you.