Importance of Breastfeeding during COVID-19 Pandemic
As the new cases of COVID-19 are increasing at an alarming rate in India, the pandemic is a stressful time for everyone, especially true for mothers who are breastfeeding and concerned about their baby's health. However, new mothers can successfully start and maintain breastfeeding during COVID 19 pandemic with some recommended precautions.
If you are a mother or expecting, it is only natural to have questions about what is safest for your baby in the current situation. Evidence is overwhelmingly in support of breastfeeding. WHO recommends all women should be supported to breastfeed during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Early initiation of breastfeeding & continuing exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months helps your baby to thrive. To date, the transmission of active COVID-19 (the virus that can cause infection) through breastmilk and breastfeeding has not been established.
Breastfeeding protects newborns from getting sick and also helps protect them throughout their infancy and childhood. Breastfeeding is especially effective against infectious diseases because it strengthens the immunity by directly transferring antibodies from the mother. If you are about to have a baby, you should be supported to breastfeed safely and share a room with your baby.
Here are some answers to common questions from new and expecting mothers during this pandemic.
Is it safe to breastfeed during the pandemic?
Absolutely. Breastmilk provides antibodies that give babies a healthy boost and protect them against many infections. Antibodies and bio-active factors in breastmilk may fight against COVID-19 infection, if a baby is exposed.
If your baby is 6 months old or younger, he/she should be breastfed exclusively. Once your infant is over 6 months, continue breastfeeding with safe and healthy complementary foods.
Can I pass COVID-19 to my baby by breastfeeding?
Although researchers are continuing to test breastmilk in various countries since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, to date the transmission of active COVID-19 (the virus that can cause infection) through breastmilk and breastfeeding has not been established.
Should I breastfeed if I have or suspect I have COVID-19?
Yes, continue breastfeeding with appropriate precautions. These include wearing a mask, washing your hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub before and after touching your baby, and routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces you have touched. Wash your breasts and keep them covered after breastfeeding. You don't need to wash your breasts before every feeding unless you coughed over it.
Other measures which help protect your baby include:
- Coughing or sneezing into a tissue and disposing of it immediately
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces you've touched
- Wearing a mask where possible
- Keeping the baby at least 6 feet away from your bed or in the next room if possible
- Routine baby care by a healthy relative when not breastfeeding
What should I do if I'm too unwell to breastfeed?
If you are feeling too sick to breastfeed your baby, try to find other ways to safely provide your baby with breastmilk. Try expressing milk and feed your baby via a clean palladia or spoon. Expressing breastmilk is also important to sustain milk production so you can breastfeed your baby again when you feel well enough to do so. There is no fixed time interval to wait after confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
Should I breastfeed if my baby is sick?
Continue to breastfeed your baby if he/she becomes ill. Whether your little one contracts COVID-19 or another illness, it is important to continue nourishing him/her with breastmilk. Breastfeeding boosts your baby's immune system, and your antibodies are passed to her through breastmilk, helping her to fight infections.
What precautions should I take while breastfeeding?
Make sure you follow handwashing guidelines. Your hands should be washed with soap and water before and after touching your baby. You may also use an alcohol-based hand rub. It is also important to clean and disinfect any surfaces that you have touched. Wash breastmilk pumps, milk storage containers, and feeding utensils after every use as usual.
Dr Sreenath Manikanti is Senior Consultant Neonatologist and HOD Fortis La Femme Hospital, Richmond Road, Bangalore.