The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do so many everyday activities, including how we care for our families. We know we can help lower children’s risk with hand washing and social distancing, but what if you’re caring for an infant? Is it safe to breastfeed during COVID?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding benefits both baby and mother. Breast milk provides the optimal mix of nutrients and antibodies for babies and is easier to digest. Human milk also reduces babies’ risk of allergies and helps protect against diseases. Breastfeeding mothers have a lower risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, anemia and osteoporosis.
“There are so many reasons to breastfeed, but it’s understandable that women are concerned about passing the coronavirus virus to their babies through their breast milk,” says Renee Nelson, MD, an OB-GYN at Scripps Clinic La Jolla. “The good news is, breast milk is not likely to pass COVID from mother to baby.”
If you’re a breastfeeding mom (or a caregiver who feeds bottled breast milk) and you have no COVID-19 symptoms nor been in contact with anyone who has the virus, you can feed your baby as usual. However, if you suspect — or know for sure — that you have been infected, you should take precautions to avoid spreading the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends taking the following steps to help keep you, your baby and any caregivers safe during the pandemic.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive for the virus, let your doctor know and follow their recommendations for breastfeeding your baby. Be sure to:
- Wash your hands before touching your baby
- Wear a mask, if possible, while breastfeeding
In addition, you and your baby should follow guidelines for home isolation to help prevent others in your household from becoming infected. This includes staying home in a specific “sick room,” such as a bedroom, not sharing household items, such as towels or dishes, and using a separate bathroom if possible. If someone needs to bring you food or supplies, both of you should stay at least six feet apart and wear a mask. (Do not put a mask on children under two years of age due to the risk of suffocation.)
Your doctor is your best source of information about when it is safe to be with others, but in general you should wait until at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared and your body temperature is normal (without fever-reducing medication) for at least 24 hours.
If you know or suspect you have COVID-19 and would rather not feed your baby, you can pump your breast milk and have a healthy caregiver bottle-feed your baby until you are well enough to resume feeding. Your caregiver should wear a mask while feeding your baby.
Any time you pump breast milk, it’s smart to take the following steps:
- Wash your hands using soap and water before expressing breast milk either by hand or with a breast pump. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Wash your hands before handling pumps and bottles.
- Clean and sanitize breast pumps and bottle parts after each use.
“For some mothers, especially first-time moms, breastfeeding can be a challenge even without COVID concerns,” says Dr. Nelson. “If you have questions about breastfeeding your baby, or need help getting your baby to latch on properly or other breastfeeding tips, Scripps has lactation consultants who are ready to help.”
Scripps offers breastfeeding support in our hospitals, by phone or virtually online. We also have breastfeeding support groups where moms can share their challenges and solutions. Find out more about breastfeeding support at Scripps.