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Worried about breastfeeding amidst the pandemic? Here’s all you need to know

Published on:5 August 2021, 09:02am IST
If you are a new mother and confused about whether to breastfeed your newborn or not amidst the Covid-19 pandemic or whether you should get yourself vaccinated, we have all your questions covered here!
Amrita Desai
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Breastfeeding
There's no reason to be apprehensive about breastfeeding during the pandemic, but apply caution and care. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Throughout the pandemic, expecting mothers and new mothers have been faced with a slew of concerns and questions about the virus and the entire vaccination process. And as the months have passed, this concern has been evident in lactating mothers as well. As a Lactation Consultant, I am often asked questions related to breastfeeding and the pandemic, breastfeeding and vaccination and so on. Here is my take on the pandemic for all the lactating mothers:

Q: Can Covid-19 be passed through breastfeeding?

A: Transmission of active COVID-19 (virus that can cause infection) through breast milk and breastfeeding has not been detected to date. There is no reason to avoid or stop breastfeeding.

Take this quiz: Think you know everything about breastfeeding? Find out with this quiz

Q: Can a mother with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 breastfeed her baby?

A: Yes. Women with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 can breastfeed if they wish to do so. They should:

  1. Wash hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand rub and especially before touching the baby
  2. Wear a medical mask during any contact with the baby, including while feeding
  3. Sneeze or cough into a tissue. Then dispose of it immediately and wash hands again
  4. Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces that mothers have touched
Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is important, for both the baby and the mother. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

It is important to replace medical masks as soon as they become damp and dispose of them immediately. Masks should not be reused or touched in the front.

Q: Following delivery, should a baby still be immediately placed skin-to-skin and breastfed if the mother is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19?

A: Yes. Immediate and continued skin-to-skin care, including kangaroo mothercare, maintains the body temperature of newborns and is associated with improved survival among newborn babies. Placing the newborn close to the mother also enables early initiation of breastfeeding. Both these can help in decreasing neonatal mortality.

Also, read: World Breastfeeding Week: Let’s thank these 4 celebrity moms for normalising breastfeeding

Q: If a mother has COVID- 19 and is too unwell to breastfeed what can be done?

Answer : If a mother is too unwell to breastfeed her baby due to COVID-19 or has other complications or is separated from the baby, she should be supported to safely provide her baby with breast milk in a way possible, available, and acceptable to her.

This could include:

  1. Expressing milk
  2. Donor human milk.

Also, read: Stay fit while breastfeeding your child with this fool-proof guide

If expressing breast milk or providing donor human milk is not possible, then options of wet nursing (another woman breastfeeds the child) or infant formula milk (with measures to ensure that it is feasible, correctly prepared, safe and sustainable) can be explored

Breastfeeding
All lactating women can get the vaccine against covid-19. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Q: Can a breastfeeding woman get vaccinated against COVID-19?

Answer: As per the new ICMR guidelines released on July 2, 2021, breastfeeding mothers should get themselves vaccinated against COVID-19 without any hesitation. The antibodies that are developed in the mother as a result of the vaccination get passively transferred to the baby while breastfeeding and could be helpful to the child. Recent evidence and studies suggest that after vaccination, antibodies are found in breast milk, which may help protect the baby against COVID-19. The numerous benefits of skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks of transmission and illness associated with COVID-19.

Q: What does WHO recommend?

Answer: WHO 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.

Mother and infant should be enabled to remain together while rooming-in throughout the day and night and to practice skin-to-skin contact, including kangaroo mother care, especially immediately after birth and during establishment of breastfeeding, whether they or their infant

Amrita Desai Amrita Desai

Ms Amrita Desai, Assistant Manager – Lactation, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Pune (Shivajinagar)