Mother-Infant Contact and Breastfeeding Should Remain A Top Priority during COVID-19
Breast feeding is essential to the health and well-being of infants and should remain a top priority even during the COVID-19 crisis.
It has been a confusing time for everyone as COVID-19 has spread, and continues to spread worldwide. One of the most concerned populations has been new mothers. Having a new baby is already a challenging time, and with a global pandemic to contend with there have been many questions on how breastfeeding mothers should deal with the potential issues. As the virus is new and not much is known about it yet, there has been lots of misinformation about best practices. The World Health Organization (WHO) has come out strongly advocating mother-infant contact and breastfeeding should remain top priorities during COVID-19.
Mother to infant skin-to-skin contact remains extremely important for maternal and infant health regardless of COVID-19 status. Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the Director-General of the World Health Organization has said the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh any potential risks of virus transmission.
This is because:
- Breastfeeding protects against illness and death during infancy and childhood
- Only “fragments” of the virus have been found in breast milk, not the live virus
- So far breastfeeding mothers do not appear to pass the virus on to the child
- Most infants with COVID-19 have experienced mild or asymptomatic illness
Dr. Tedros says, “We know that children are at relatively low risk of COVID-19, but are at high risk of numerous other diseases and conditions that breastfeeding prevents. Based on the available evidence, WHO’s advice is that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risks of transmission of COVID-19.”
If mothers fear they have been exposed to the virus they can take precautions such as mask wearing, washing or sanitizing hands before touching the baby and coughing or sneezing into tissues.
Though there have been some contradictory recommendations in some countries, separating mother and infant or restricting breast feeding has been shown to:
- Damage the opportunity to breast feed later
- Has negative health impacts on both
- May not even reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission
- Places additional burdens on the health system
Those mothers who are pumping can and should continue to do so. If there has been possible exposure to COVID-19 then the mother should wash her hands for 20 seconds and wear a mask prior to touching the breast pump or any of its accessories. When finished she should clean the dials, power switch, and countertop then take apart breast pump tubing and separate all parts that come in contact with breast/breast milk (for example, flanges, valves, membranes, connectors, and milk collection bottles). Then clean and sanitize the parts by washing by hand with hot soapy water or the dishwasher (if labeled dishwasher safe). Wipe down the body of the pump using a sanitizing household cleaner.
The novel coronavirus is new and its effects aren’t yet fully known, but previous research has shown breastfeeding is essential to a baby’s health, growth and development and that previous studies of other similar viruses have shown very few illnesses are transmitted through breast milk. It’s important to continue to make breast feeding and mother-infant contact a priority during this time.
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