August is National Breastfeeding Month! While most of us have been feeling the worry and stress of coping with COVID-19, parents of a newborn dealing with the unknown is particularly daunting. With all the information out there, we wanted to provide a brief summary of the best available recommendations for breastfeeding families craving guidance during the pandemic.
Why is this virus called “novel”?
Novel means “new”, and in this case, the virus is one that humans have never experienced before. Just six months ago we didn’t have a test to diagnose it and we still do not have a cure or a vaccine. We know that it spreads easily through close contact from person-to-person and can even be spread by an infected person who is not feeling ill. Scientists and medical professionals are learning more every day about this unique virus.
Is it safe to breastfeed my baby during a pandemic?
YES! Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most infants. In addition, breast milk contains millions of immune-boosting live cells and antibodies that protect your baby from many illnesses and support your baby’s healthy growth and development. These bioactive components cannot be found in formula. In addition, the release of the hormone oxytocin during breastfeeding promotes mom’s wellness and relieves stress and anxiety.
What if I’m a breastfeeding mom and I’m diagnosed with COVID-19 infection?
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reports that COVID-19 infections in newborns are uncommon, the risk of a newborn getting COVID-19 from its mother is low, and providing breastmilk is the best defense you could give your baby from many infections and diseases. Have a discussion with your physician or your Board Certified Lactation Consultant about strategies for recovering from the illness while caring for a newborn. The common hygiene recommendations apply:
- Infected mothers should wear a mask and wash hands with running water before holding baby, lather the backs of her hands, between the fingers and under the nails for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching mouth, nose, and eyes and routinely clean and disinfect all surfaces.
- When possible, a healthy caregiver can assist with diapering and soothing the baby and should follow the same rules for masks and hand hygiene.
If mom has been separated from baby and breastfeeding has been interrupted during her illness, a Lactation Consultant can advise her on ways to reestablish lactation when mom and baby are together again.
Is it safe to provide breastmilk for my NICU baby?
Yes! The American Academy of Pediatrics highly recommends expressed breastmilk when breastfeeding is not possible. When using a breast pump, mom should wear a mask, thoroughly clean her hands as well as the milk collection kit, bottles, and artificial nipples. A double electric pump is the most effective way to express milk, and a hospital grade double electric pump is most efficient. The kit (except for the tubing) should be sanitized at least once daily by boiling in a pot on the stove or in the dishwasher (upper rack) on sani-cycle (read the kit manufacturer’s recommendations).
The science of COVID-19 is evolving rapidly, and medical professionals are your best resource for reliable information. Families with a breastfeeding child can receive guidance from their pediatrician, the family physician, and from a lactation specialist. The most highly trained lactation specialists have completed extensive training and are board-certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBCLE). For answers to more COVID-19 breastfeeding questions, contact an IBCLE certified lactation consultant in your area.
In closing, mothers can successfully start and maintain breastfeeding during the pandemic, with some recommended precautions. In-person newborn follow-up visits should occur to evaluate feeding and the impact of COVID-19 pandemic-related stressors, such as social distancing isolation and economic strains on the family. In addition, home visits and even telehealth approaches with a lactation specialist can provide additional lactation support.
Even with the pandemic’s challenges to the breastfeeding family, it is still one of the most incredible gifts a mother can provide to her child. Best of luck in your journey and know that there are many resources to support you and your baby along the way.
About the Author
Jean A. Tretler, RN, IBCLC is Founder and Director of Lactation Associates of St Augustine. Mrs. Tretler is a graduate of The Catholic University of America School of Nursing, a licensed Registered Nurse and a Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She believes in the proven benefits of breast milk and the rewards of a happy breastfeeding experience. Jean draws on her 28 years of clinical experience to keep babies happy and healthy, and to provide the finest in lactation care so that the family can feel confident in their feeding decisions. For more information go to www.