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The Covid-19 pandemic has posed several challenges to the provision of newborn nutrition and care interventions, including maternal support, breastfeeding, and family participatory care. Despite the guidelines regarding breastfeeding practices, there are many concerns about protecting infants from their infected mothers.
As Covid-19 cases are rising once more, and the emergence of its new variant Omicron, concerned people have this question on their mind: Should mothers who are suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients breastfeed?
Breastfeeding is the cornerstone of infant and young child survival, nutrition and development, and maternal health. However, concerns have been raised about whether breastfeeding mothers with Covid-19 can transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus to their infants.
The World Health Organization recommends that mothers with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 should be encouraged to initiate or continue to breastfeed. Mothers should be counseled that the benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks for transmission.
At present, data is not sufficient to conclude vertical transmission of Covid-19 through breastfeeding. It is still not clear whether the virus can or cannot be transmitted through breast milk. Current evidence suggests that breast milk is not likely to spread the virus to babies and that the risk of a newborn getting COVID-19 from their mother is low, especially when the mother takes steps ( such as wearing a mask and washing hands) to prevent spread before and during care of the newborn.
Breast milk is the best nutrition for infant growth and development and is also rich in antibodies that provide the first source of adaptive immunity in a newborn’s intestinal tract.
In preterm or low birth weight newborns, a mother’s own expressed milk is the first choice. When it is unavailable, donor breast milk is considered as the next best choice. For healthy newborns whose mothers are unable to provide sufficient breast milk, the current option of choice is infant formula.
As per WHO recommendations, mothers should be encouraged to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of life and continue exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. This can be followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to 2 years and beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding means that the infant receives only breast milk.