Breastfeeding During a Pandemic

Written by Becky Flora-Waterman, FNP-C, MSN, BSed

To date there is no evidence that Covid-19 is passed through breastmilk or amniotic fluids during pregnancy or birth. Therefore, infection control measures are concentrated on avoiding the spread through respiratory droplets. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) current recommendation is as follows: “Mothers and infants should be enabled to remain together and practise skin-to-skin contact, kangaroo mother care, and to remain together and to practise rooming-in throughout the day and night, especially immediately after birth during establishment of breastfeeding, whether they or their infants have suspected, probable or confirmed COVID-19 virus infection.”

Following are current recommendations for providing mother’s milk safely to your infant during a pandemic:

*Exclusive breastfeeding or breastfeeding with solid foods as a complement:

If you are breastfeeding and currently have no symptoms of Covid-10 (fever, shortness of breath, or cough), breastfeed as you would normally. If you are planning to wean, or have already started weaning, consider holding off a bit to allow baby to continue receiving the antibody-rich breastmilk which will provide him with more protection from Covid-19 as well as other viruses and bacteria. 

*Mixed feeding with breastmilk and formula:

If you are doing a combination of breastfeeding and formula-feeding, try to optimize the amount of breastmilk that your baby receives. Save the formula for when breastmilk is just not available. Make breastfeeding a priority when you are together. Consider researching measures for increasing breastmilk production if supply is an issue (https://kellymom.com/hot-topics/low-supply/).

*Breastpump use:

Wash your hands before touching any breastpump or bottle parts. Follow best practices for keeping your breastpump parts clean: https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/pdf/hygiene/breast-pump-fact-sheet-p.pdf

*Others feeding baby:

Limit the number of people who feed your baby if possible, whether giving pumped breastmilk or formula. Insist on hand washing prior to feeding. 

*If you have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or suspect that you have it:

Continue breastfeeding if possible. Remember that your body is rapidly producing antibodies to help you fight the virus off, and these will be passed on to your baby. Wash hands frequently, especially before and after feedings. Wear a mask when in close contact with baby to prevent respiratory droplets from contacting her. Avoid touching your eyes and face as well as baby’s eyes and face. Skin to skin contact is still encouraged. If you are pumping, follow the recommendations as outlined above for breastpump use.

*If you are hospitalized due to Covid-19:

If possible, keep baby with you. Be sure to pump your breasts regularly for missed feedings so that milk supply is maintained. For total separation of mother and baby, a hospital-grade or professional grade breastpump is recommended. Pump at least every 3 hours to promote comfort and maintain supply. Request help from the hospital’s lactation consultant.

References:

https://kellymom.com/covid19/covid-19-summary/

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/pdf/hygiene/breast-pump-fact-sheet-p.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/maternal-or-infant-illnesses/covid-19-and-breastfeeding.html

https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-on-covid-19-pregnancy-childbirth-and-breastfeeding