Becoming a new mother brings many joys and challenges, but amid the coronavirus pandemic, a new question has arisen – can new mothers breastfeed safely? According to many health experts, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the answer is yes, and here are several ways to help keep you and your baby safe and healthy.
1. Practice safe measures while interacting with your baby.
As the optimal source of nutrition for most infants, breast milk provides a number of important antibodies that help protect babies from infection, and according to AAP, infants who are breastfed are less likely to experience severe respiratory symptoms when sick. Furthermore, interruption of or halting breastfeeding can lead to a heightened risk for your baby to become ill due to the absence of immune support. Therefore, experts advise continuing to nourish your child through breastfeeding with proper precautions, including always washing your hands with soap and water before and after touching your baby or, when on the go, using hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
At this time, studies have not found the presence of the COVID-19 virus in breast milk, but if you have been exposed to coronavirus, wear a mask or cloth face covering around your baby and practice good physical distancing measures from others.
2. If positive for COVID-19, avoid direct nursing and opt to pump your breast milk.
If you are infected with COVID-19, experts recommend the best practice of pumping breast milk so that a non-infected family member can feed your baby. Rather than directly nursing, which could expose your infant to viral respiratory droplets, expressed milk can be fed to your baby with a bottle or through either a clean cup or cup and spoon, if your baby is older. And according to AAP, this practice, along with physical distancing, should continue until all of the following conditions are met: you are fever-free without use of fever medicines (acetaminophen or ibuprofen) for at least 72 hours; when your other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving; and when at least 10 days have passed since your symptoms started. And remember, if a mother is too ill to breastfeed or pump breast milk, she should seek immediate counsel from a physician.
To safely express milk or pump while infected with coronavirus:
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water (or use hand sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol).
Put on a clean mask or cloth face covering that covers both the nose and mouth.
Wipe down and disinfect all pump parts, bottles and nipples, including any surfaces where you place these items while pumping.
Follow the same disinfection practice once pumping is complete.
Provide expressed milk to a healthy family member or caregiver to feed the baby.
And while the CDC states there isn’t clear evidence on whether to clean your breasts prior to breastfeeding or milk expression or disinfect external surfaces of bottles, AAP suggests this is a healthy practice.
3. No matter what, keep a consistent pumping schedule.
If nursing your child becomes compromised by either the coronavirus or a change in routine, always make sure to maintain a consistent pumping schedule. The CDC suggests pumping at the same times or as often as you would if directly breastfeeding. AAP says most newborns eat every two to three hours or between eight to 12 times per day. Consider asking a family member to set alarms on his or her phone to help you schedule consistent pumping times.
If you are returning to work, consult with your employer about securing a private, non-restroom area for the time needed for pumping. According to the CDC, there is evidence that the virus lingers on surfaces from a few hours to days, therefore, always take heightened sanitation measures when away from home.
4. Utilize virtual care options for lactation support services.
A major reason 60 percent of mothers stop breastfeeding earlier than intended is because of issues with lactation and latching. The good news is support is available. However, if you are concerned about meeting a lactation specialist in person during the pandemic, consider virtual care options through our hospital, or call:
Office on Women’s Health Helpline – 1-800-994-9662 (9 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET, Monday – Friday)
La Leche League International (LLLI) – 1-877-4-LALECHE (1-877-452-5324)
As a best practice, AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for infants for the first six months followed by a combination of breastfeeding and introduction of appropriate foods for one year or longer. For more information and resources, talk with your pediatrician and visit the CDC’s breastfeeding resources site.
As information on COVID-19 evolves, guidance sourced from the CDC and other resources contained in this blog may be subject to change. This material is intended for general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your medical provider for personal care recommendations.