May 4, 2020
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Rose St. Fleur, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics.
It is a personal decision to breastfeed your baby. Many experts tout the benefits of and reasons why women should consider breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, as an expectant or new mom you may be questioning your decision to breastfeed. Will I unknowingly pass the virus to my baby when breastfeeding?
Here is what you need to know about how to protect your baby and yourself from COVID-19 while breastfeeding.
Transmission of COVID-19 through Breast Milk
Much is still unknown about how COVID-19 is spread. Person-to-person spread is thought to occur through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. There are limited studies on pregnant or post-partum women with COVID-19. However, the studies do indicate that women infected with COVID-19 and women with a similar coronavirus infection, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), did not have the virus detected in breast milk.
“Additional research needs to be conducted to confirm these findings, but based on what’s been seen to-date, we do not believe women should stop breastfeeding in fear of passing the virus on to their children,” says Rose St. Fleur, M.D., medical director of the Center for Breastfeeding at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
“Because of the many benefits of breastfeeding, including the protection against various illnesses, there are only rare exceptions when breastfeeding or feeding expressed breast milk is not recommended,” says Dr. St. Fleur.
Given the low rates of transmission of respiratory viruses through breast milk, the World Health Organization states that mothers with COVID-19 can breastfeed.
Breastfeeding offers many benefits including:
- Essential nutrition, which also offers some protection against common childhood infections and a better survival rate during the baby’s first year
- Very early skin-to-skin contact, and suckling that may have physical and emotional benefits for the mother and baby
- Reducing the risk for certain allergic diseases, asthma, obesity and type 2 diabetes
Safety Measures for Breastfeeding with COVID-19
Women who are breastfeeding while sick with COVID-19 should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus to her child. While recommendations for safe breastfeeding are subject to change as more information is acquired, the following steps are strongly advised:
- Washing your hands frequently. Hand hygiene can be performed by washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60% to 95% alcohol.
- If expressing milk, wash hands before touching the pump or any bottle parts.
- When possible, have a non-infected person feed the baby while recovering from the illness.
- Wearing a face mask while nursing. Although it doesn’t seem likely that the virus can be transmitted through breast milk, it can be transmitted through viral droplets released from your mouth or nose.
Questions and Concerns
Breastfeeding can sometimes be challenging for a new mom. During a pandemic, it can be particularly taxing knowing how best to care for your newborn. New or expectant moms with questions about COVID-19 should reach out to their OBGYN or health care provider.
Additionally, the Convenient Care NOW mobile app offers lactation consulting by appointment.
Next Steps & Resources
- Meet our source, Rose St. Fleur, M.D.
- Everything you need to know about delivering a baby during the pandemic.
- Learn about whether or not you should take your child to the pediatrician during the pandemic.
- Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine
- National Institutes of Health
- World Health Organization
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.