Breast milk is nature’s perfect food for a newborn. It contains the right amount of nutrients, immune-boosting antibodies, and is easily digested. Babies who are breastfed tend to have fewer bouts of diarrhea or constipation, less reflux, more protection against ear infections, pneumonia, and asthma, and a lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The benefits of breast milk seem to be endless. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends to start breastfeeding as early as one hour after birth and to continue exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months. They also recommend continuing breastfeeding even after solid foods are introduced, until at least 1 year of age.
Can You Breastfeeding If Positive for COVID-19?
But what if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19? Is it safe to start or continue breastfeeding? While there are still so many unknowns when it comes to coronavirus, it’s widely known that you can spread COVID-19 to your infant through tiny droplets when you talk, cough, or sneeze.
To date, research has also shown that COVID-19 is not likely to spread through breast milk. The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to recommend that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 be encouraged to initiate or continue to breastfeed. They propose that the benefits of breastfeeding greatly outweigh the possible risks for transmission. In infants, the risk of COVID-19 infection is low and the infection is typically mild or asymptomatic. On the other hand, the consequences of not breastfeeding along with the separation between mother and child can be significant.
If you are in isolation for COVID-19 in your hospital room or at home and choose to breastfeed or express breast milk:
- Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water* before and after:
- Touching, holding, changing a diaper, or caring for your baby
- Breastfeeding your baby
- Touching a breast pump, bottles, and their parts
- Pumping breast milk
*If soap and water is not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Wear a mask
- During direct breastfeeding
- While pumping
- Anytime you are within 6 feet of your baby
- If you are expressing milk:
- Remember to use your own breast pump
- Do not share a pump or its parts with anyone else
- Be sure to thoroughly clean and sanitize all pump parts that have been in contact with you and your breast milk
- Consider having a healthy caregiver feed your baby expressed breast milk
- You can even have this healthy caregiver take care of your newborn if you are feeling too sick
- The caregiver should always wear a mask when caring for or feeding your baby in case they have been exposed to the virus
- Always monitor your baby and remember to call the pediatrician if they have a fever, trouble breathing, or seem to be sick.
Ideally, you should attempt to pump or feed every 2-3 hours, or 8-10 times per day, including overnight. If you feel too sick to breastfeed or provide expressed breast milk, you or a healthy caregiver should talk to your baby’s pediatrician or a registered dietitian. These health professionals can help you select an infant formula that would best suit your newborn until you’re able to resume providing breast milk.
If your baby was born premature and in the neonatal intensive care unit, they may be eligible to receive donor breast milk until you can resume breastfeeding or pumping. It also would be wise to contact a lactation consultant if you had to stop breastfeeding and are having problems producing milk again.
As a final reminder, there is nothing that can replace the benefits of breastfeeding and the connection that develops between a mother and her baby following birth. If you test positive for COVID-19 or suspect you may have it, discuss breastfeeding with your family and your health care provider so that you can make the best decision for you and your baby.