The novel coronavirus has impacted every aspect of life, and it has affected many decisions women are making about their health. Women who are pregnant or have recently given birth during the global pandemic are faced with difficult decisions for themselves and their children. One of the first decisions that women have to make is whether to start or continue breastfeeding during the pandemic. Although information is limited, many health agencies have published guidelines to help women with questions about breastfeeding, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
As with most guidelines regarding COVID-19, the experts start off by saying that there is still much that remains unknown about the virus, and new information is still being discovered. It is still not known if COVID-19 can be passed from mother to child through breast milk. At this time, the CDC notes that based on the limited studies available, it is not likely that mothers with COVID-19 are passing the virus to their babies through breast milk.
Because of the numerous benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby, it is still recommended to breastfeed during the current pandemic. It is a personal decision whether a woman chooses to breastfeed or bottle feed her baby, but the current global health situation should not deter women who want to breastfeed.
The World Health Organization notes that even in communities where there are high numbers of COVID-19 cases, breastfeeding is still recommended. The American Academy of Pediatrics also states that breastfeeding is known to help protect infants from infection, and breastfed infants who get ill with other viruses have less severe respiratory symptoms.
The current health guidelines also recommend that mothers who have COVID-19 should continue to breastfeed, while taking precautions to not transmit the virus to their child. The CDC recommends that women who are nursing should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before feeding their child. Women should also wear a face covering, such as a medical or cloth mask, while feeding their child.
If a woman is using a breast pump, she should wash her hands for 20 seconds before pumping and before handling any pump parts or bottles. It is also important to follow all recommended guidelines for cleaning the breast pump after each use. For women who are pumping, it may further reduce the chance of transmission if another, healthy caregiver is able to feed the baby the expressed milk.
These are general guidelines, and it is always recommended to consult your healthcare provider about more specific recommendations. As cases of COVID-19 continue to increase, more studies are being done to learn more about the virus, its mode of transmission, and best practices for healthcare providers. If you are a breastfeeding mother who becomes ill with, or tests positive for, COVID-19, it is vital that you consult with your child’s pediatrician. In addition to precautions to take while breastfeeding, he or she may have additional guidance on caring for infants and young children if a parent has COVID-19.
Emily Nobles, WHNP, is a nurse practitioner at Atlantic Ob/Gyn located in Va. Beach and Chesapeake. For information, call 757-463-1234 or visit www.atlanticobgyn.com.