Breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic

Tips on keeping your baby healthy and safe

Mother breastfeeding
UNICEF Laos/2010
11 May 2020

Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies and protects them against illness. Disruption of breastfeeding can lead to a drop in milk supply, refusal by the infant to take the breast, and a decrease in protective immune factors contained in breastmilk. But mothers will be understandably worried and asking themselves whether coronavirus can be passed on through breastmilk and what they can do to protect themselves and their babies.

Here are some tips for keeping mothers and babies safe during the COVID-19 crisis

1. Continue to breastfeed while taking care with hygiene

So far, the virus has not been found in breast milk and all mothers are advised to continue breastfeeding, while practicing good hygiene during feeding. These include the 3 Ws:

Wear a mask during feeding,
Wash hands with soap before and after touching the baby, 
Wipe and disinfect surfaces regularly.

The main risk for a baby is catching the virus from close contact with the mother or another infected member of the family. If anyone is sick in the household, take extra care to protect your baby by practising the 3 Ws.

Some mothers may choose to wear a mask during feeding as a routine to ensure that their child is fully protected. If a mother suspects that she may have contracted coronavirus, she may wish to express her breastmilk and feed the baby using a clean cup or cup and spoon.

2. Take additional hygiene measures and continue to breastfeed if you fall sick

Mothers who get coronavirus shortly before giving birth and begin breastfeeding, and those who become infected while breastfeeding, will produce immune factors (antibodies) in their milk to protect their baby and enhance the baby’s own immune responses. This means that continuing to breastfeed is the best way to fight the virus and protect your baby.

If a mother does fall ill with symptoms of fever, cough or difficulty breathing, she should seek medical care early, and follow instructions from a health care provider.

Mothers who are well enough to breastfeed should continue to do so, taking additional care with hygiene by practicing the 3 Ws including wearing a mask whenever near to the baby.   

3. Use a cup and spoon to feed babies with expressed breastmilk when too sick to breastfeed

When mothers are too ill to breastfeed, they should seek immediate medical advice. It may still be possible to express milk and ask a non-infected member of the family to feed the baby using a clean cup or cup and spoon. It will be even more important to follow the 3 Ws at all times to keep the baby healthy and safe.

4. Take extra care when formula feeding

Breastfeeding is the best way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of babies. However, there are instances where a mother is unable to breastfeed or where she has decided not to breastfeed. In addition, the widespread marketing of formula milks undermines the confidence of many mothers and encourages them to feed their babies using bottles and formula milks. In these cases, it is especially important that babies are being fed according to the instructions on the packaging and that extra care is taken with thoroughly washing bottles, teats and any other equipment used. The 3 Ws should be followed at all times.