Is it safe to breastfeed my baby if I am COVID-19 positive?Dr. Vinay V. Kulkarni
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Consultant & Chief Neonatologist
Can I Breastfeed My Baby?
For mothers with breastfeeding babies, the novel coronavirus outbreak is a cause for great concern.
One of the most common questions is whether “I can breastfeed my baby without the risk of exposing my baby to the virus”. Given that this is a novel virus, there is limited information available on its transmission. So far the ongoing studies have not detected the virus in breast milk. Breastfeeding is the best option for your baby. However, it is important to take the necessary precautions.
Is My Baby At Risk Of COVID-19?
Yes, your baby can be at risk, if you are COVID-19 positive. However as there is no evidence of the virus found in breast milk, it is not a contraindication as per the studies done to date. Having said that, you need to protect your baby by washing your hands, wearing a mask and protective gowns and then feeding the baby. There is a risk of transmission through cough or sneeze droplets in the air. Thus, isolating yourself and the baby is advisable. But, if you feel, that this makes it difficult for you to bond with your baby, you can take protective measures and still share a room with your baby.
Knowledge about COVID-19 is still incomplete but there have been fewer cases reported amongst children as compared to adults. In most cases, the child contracted the virus through an infected family member or someone they lived with. Children have shown milder symptoms as compared to adults and elderly people. If your baby has been in contact with someone who has recently traveled or who shows signs of flu, speak to your doctor and isolate your baby from the people concerned.
Why should you breastfeed your baby?
Breastfeeding is important whether a pandemic is going on or not. Breastmilk is the best form of nutrition available for newborn babies and infants. It contains antibodies to fight a number of diseases and thus gives your baby the best protection. In this way, breast milk strengthens the baby’s immune system.
It is important to note that since the coronavirus is new, it may be too early to comment on having antibodies in your breast milk that fight this specific virus. But during a pandemic with such a disease with limited information, you should discuss it with your health care personnel and then make an informed decision on breastfeeding the baby.
Hygiene Tips And Precautions For Breastfeeding COVID-19 Positive Mothers
Even mothers who suspect that they might have contracted the virus or those who have tested positive for it can breastfeed their babies as long as they follow certain precautions. These are:
- Hand hygiene is most important- Wash your hands thoroughly before touching the baby.
- Wear a protective mask while feeding the baby to ensure that the baby is protected from respiratory droplets.
- Limit contact with other people including those at home. You may consider staying in an isolated room and using different household items such as bedding, towels, utensils, etc.
- If you feel the symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive for the virus, you may consider not breastfeeding your baby directly. Instead, express milk with a breast pump and let someone else spoon-feed the baby. This expressed breastmilk can be refrigerated or frozen depending on when it will be used. When refrigerated, it can be used for up to 3 days. If frozen, it can be used for 6 months. Frozen milk should be thawed before feeding the baby.
- Even if you are too sick to continue direct breastfeeding, expressed breast milk is a better option to meet the baby’s nutritional requirement as compared to formula.
- Wash your hands before using the pump. The pump should also be cleaned before and after each use.
- If a bottle is used to feed the baby, clean all its parts before and after each use with a disinfectant. According to the latest information available, the virus stays on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours.
- All surfaces like tables, sinks, etc. should be cleaned after you finish expressing the milk. Routine cleaning and disinfection of the touched surfaces should be followed.
- If you are COVID-19 positive, look out for signs and symptoms in your baby and approach the nearest medical center for assistance for your baby.
- Once you have tested negative for COVID-19, re-lactation can be taken up.
To protect your baby from this coronavirus you should also adhere to the following:
- Do not go out of your home and do not let your baby meet visitors.
- Wash all your baby’s toys and limit them to an area that has been sanitized.
- If your baby is at the crawling stage, wash his/ her hands often.
- Use a disinfectant or household cleaner to wipe down surfaces that the baby comes in contact with.
Is it safe to use donor milk?
It isn’t rare for a mother to be unable to produce breastmilk for her baby. This is not a cause for concern and does not mean that your baby needs to be fed on formula. Instead, it would be a better idea to use donor milk. This refers to milk that has been expressed by other mothers and pasteurized. Pasteurizing donor milk deactivates any viruses and germs that may have contaminated the milk and thus make it safe for your baby.
Donor milk is as nutritious as your own breastmilk and will keep your baby’s immune system strong. In light of the coronavirus outbreak, donor milk banks are also performing additional screening tests to protect babies who will feed on it.
Every mother worries for her baby and the rate at which COVID-19 is spreading only accentuates her worries. But, if you keep your baby away from people visiting your home and follow healthcare protocols, your baby should be safe. Breastfeeding isn’t just a way of giving your baby the nutrition he/she needs, it’s also the best time to bond with your baby. To the best of your ability during this pandemic, try to maintain your breastfeeding schedule as far as possible with all the protective precautions.
If still, you feel concerned about breastfeeding, do not hesitate to call your doctor or health care provider for advice and support.