Being a new parent is hard enough under normal circumstances but with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, things just got much much harder for those with new babies. This post should clear up some questions you may have regarding how breastfeeding may or may not change during these uncertain times.
The World Health Organization (WHO) outlines all of their recommendations here (https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-on-covid-19-and-breastfeeding ) but this will be a quick summation of what they have to say about this topic.
It should be a sigh of relief to many to know that there is no evidence showing that COVID-19 is passed through breastmilk. In fact, breastmilk is shown to improve the well-being of both mother and baby in all settings whether the virus is prevalent in your area currently or not.
If you are suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 prior to your baby’s arrival, immediate skin-to-skin upon birth and kangaroo care are still recommended by the WHO. The benefits of immediate contact after birth and the increase in likelihood and initiation of breastfeeding are considered to outweigh the risks of your infant catching COVID-19.
If you are suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, this is not a reason to discontinue breastfeeding if you desire to continue. You can help prevent the potential spread of the virus by:
-wearing a medical mask while feeding baby
-washing hands frequently, especially after coughing or wiping your nose
-consistently cleaning and disinfecting your home
If you do not have access to a medical mask; it is still recommended that you continue breastfeeding as it is long-shown to decrease infant-mortality and provides lifelong health benefits for your baby. Even without a medical mask available to you, following the other prevention methods listed above will aid in providing a safer environment for your baby if you are suspected to or confirmed to have COVID-19.
If you have a confirmed case of COVID-19 and you are too unwell to directly breastfeed; the WHO recommends breast milk for your baby either through expressing your own milk or using donor milk. If neither of these are suitable for your personal circumstance, wet nursing or properly prepared infant formula are suggested.
If you have found a need to suspend breastfeeding for the duration of your illness and desire to breastfeed again upon feeling well enough to do so, the WHO supports this. If relactation is necessary, finding an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to assist in that process would be helpful.
If you have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, the WHO does not recommend transitioning to infant formula for that reason alone. Infant formula doesn’t contain antibodies for babies like breastmilk does. By the time you know you are sick, you have likely already exposed your baby, making the antibodies a very helpful tool for their body. The WHO states directly that, “the numerous benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks of transmission and illness associated with the COVID-19 virus.”
Hopefully, it is comforting to you as a new parent to know that while this pandemic may be causing upheaval in every other aspect of your life; it need not do so to your breastfeeding relationship. Whether sick with COVID-19 or well, your breastmilk is still the perfect food for your infant. The guidelines listed above can assist you in making the best infant-feeding choices for your family during this time of crisis.