Many couples and their family members are concerned about knowing how to take care of a baby if the mother is COVID-19 positive. Will she be able to breastfeed their baby? What preventive measures should she and her caregiver follow?
It is to note that since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, researchers in various countries have tested breast milk from mothers diagnosed with COVID-19, and to date, the transmission of active COVID-19 (the virus that can cause the infection) through breast milk and breastfeeding has not been established.
Mothers can successfully start and maintain breastfeeding during the pandemic, even if they are COVID +ve.
Here a few FAQs answered
1. Can mothers continue breastfeeding directly or expressed breast milk if they test positive for COVID-19?
Yes, babies can still receive breast milk even if the mother tests positive for COVID-19. Breast milk is safe and important for the baby.
- Direct breastfeeding- The COVID-19 virus has not been reported yet to be present in breast milk. It is advised to the mothers not to stop breastfeeding, fearing the spread of the virus. However, breastfeeding should be done hygienically by adapting the 3 Ws:
- Wear a mask during feeding (preferably N95),
- Wash hands with soap before and after touching the baby for 20sec,
- Wipe and disinfect surfaces regularly.
- Pumping breast milk- Before pumping out breast milk, the mother should take care of the following activities:
- Covering the face with a mask or cloth face coverings
- Washing the hands properly with soap for 20 seconds, and
- Clean the parts of the pump, bottles, and artificial nipples.
Pumping out the breast milk or expression should be done as per the needs of the baby. The baby can be given the expressed breast milk by a caregiver who is not COVID-19 positive. The caregiver should be reminded to follow the guidelines while taking care of the baby, i.e., wearing a face mask, washing hands as per guidelines, and cleaning the bottle. Remember to clean the breast pump after each use.
2. If the mother has COVID-19, can she stay in the same room with her infant?
If the mother and her family decide to keep the baby in the same room with the mother, then try to keep a 6 feet distance away when possible. Wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands whenever you directly care for your baby. These precautions should be carried out until:
- At least 10 days have passed (without any severe illness) since the first symptom of COVID-19 appeared
- COVID-19 symptoms have improved and there are no symptoms for at least 10 days from the date of the positive confirmation for COVID-19.
3. How can a mother maintain her milk supply if she is sick with COVID-19?
It is very much essential to continue the supply of breast milk in the first few days of the birth of a baby. If a mother is COVID-19 positive, she can hand pump and hand express breast milk to meet the baby's milk supply need. Mothers who chose to breastfeed their baby directly by following the 3Ws safety principle or choose for frequent expressing should line up with the infant's feeding demands, about 8-10 times in 24 hours. Although most of the prescribed medications of COVID-19 are safe for breastfeeding mothers, it is advised to ask your doctor again before taking any medication during such a crucial time.
COVID-19 has created a stressful atmosphere in human life. However, mothers are requested to stay optimistic, carry out yoga, do regular exercise, eat healthy foods, drink sufficient water, and get enough rest as much as possible. If a mother is COVID-19 positive and is under home isolation, please follow the newly revised guidelines given by the government of India and follow your physician’s advice strictly.
4.How can a mother protect her infant from COVID-19 infection?
Mothers are advised to follow the below guidelines to prevent COVID-19 infection to their infants:
I. Hands should be washed properly with soap for 20 seconds after coming from outdoors and handling the baby. Soap and water can be replaced by hand sanitizers which have 60% alcohol content. They also help in preventing the spread of the virus through contact.
II. Unwashed hands should not be used to touch your face, eyes, nose, or mouth. Also, make sure to disinfect any surfaces your child can come in contact with, which may be dirty or potentially contaminated.
III. If you are sick, make a point of coughing or sneezing into your elbow or use a tissue. The used tissues should be discarded immediately in a dustbin meant specifically for collecting used tissues. Wash hands and face properly.
IV. Move out of the house only if it is that necessary. Always wear a mask, avoid the crowded place, wash hands before moving out, maintain social distancing of 6ft between each person, use tissue papers, do not spit, and finally wash your hands before entering the house.
V. Moreover, be sure that everyone in the home avoids close contact with anyone with respiratory symptoms such as coughing or individuals with probable COVID-19.
5.When to consult your pediatrician?
A mother should inform the pediatrician immediately if
1. the baby has a fever which does not come down
2. the baby has difficulty in breathing
3. the baby looks weak and sick.
If you need extra support and knowledge on breastfeeding and lactation problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can schedule an online consultation with your pediatrician.
3. Walker KF, O’Donoghue K, Grace N, Dorling J, Comeau JL, Li W, Thornton Maternal transmission of SARS-COV-2 to the neonate, and possible routes for such transmission: a systematic review and critical analysis. BJOG 2020; https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-0528.1636