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The benefits of breastfeeding are many, and most nursing moms can quickly list lots of reasons why they choose to breastfeed.

But what about in the middle of a pandemic? Is it still safe?

We have many reasons to believe that breastfeeding is not only safe but should be encouraged when it comes to preventing infections in babies, especially newborns who are most vulnerable as their own immune systems are not fully developed.

With that sad, some additional precautions are needed in the time of coronavirus.

Women who are well and have no symptoms of coronavirus should continue to breastfeed. Good hand hygiene should be practiced as a precaution, but this is true for everyone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms that breastfeeding is an ideal way for protective antibodies to be passed onto babies, and the agency has confirmed it’s okay to continue nursing.

So far we have no evidence that coronavirus is transmitted in breastmilk. Samples that have been tested from infected mothers did not show any evidence of the virus in milk. More work is ongoing, but for now we can work under the assumption that breastmilk is safe.

Additionally, pasteurized human donor milk is considered safe to continue to use as the temperature at which it is heated has been shown to kill viruses similar to coronavirus.

The challenge is in the immediate postpartum period; that is, right after birth. The CDC has issued some stricter recommendations for breastfeeding in this population. They recommend that mothers who are infected with the coronavirus or who are under investigation for it (that is, they are suspected to have it and their test is pending) be separated from their babies temporarily.

While separated, they recommend that the baby goes under the same isolation precautions as the mother since it is possible they may also be infected (though data on transmission in utero is still extremely limited). During separation, they recommend that the mother continues to pump and that that expressed milk is fed to the baby by someone else.

For pumping, the CDC recommends good hand hygiene with thorough cleaning of all pump and bottle parts.

This can be a difficult recommendation. Many new mothers do not want to be separated from their newborns. Not all hospitals can physically do this. And we have many questions that we still don’t have answers for. For example, is it just as safe to keep a six-foot distance between mom and baby except for feeding time, and at that time can the mother wear a mask and still be protecting her baby?

In light of these issues, the CDC notes that this not be a one-size-fits-all mandate and that every family should be given the information to make a shared decision with their medical team that feels right for them. It will be important that we continue to update our recommendations as we learn more about this virus as well.

Takeaways

  • Breastfeeding is an ideal way to pass antibodies to babies
  • Coronavirus has not been shown to be passed through breastmilk
  • The CDC recommends temporary separation of mom and baby right after birth if the mother is infected or suspected to be infected
  • This is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation

References

  1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim Guidance on Breastfeeding for a Mother Confirmed or Under Investigation For COVID-19.Accessed 1 April 2020.
  2. Human Milk banking of North America. Milk banking and COVID-19. 6 March 2020.

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