Kosta, mom and dad – three superheroes
Breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic
Bor, Serbia - “I wanted to breastfeed from the very beginning. It was very important to me because of how important breastmilk is for the immune system, for the baby, for bonding with the baby,” explains Valentina, as she begins the story of her pregnancy, childbirth, persistence in breastfeeding and the first months of her son’s life.
Kosta is seven months old now. He is a playful baby, interested in playing with his mom and dad. He is growing up in Bor in eastern Serbia, surrounded by countless toys and happy parents.
But week 27 of Valentina’s pregnancy marked the start of a challenging period for her and her husband Marko. Due to gestational diabetes and a short cervix, her pregnancy was risky. The staff at one of Belgrade’s maternity hospitals did everything to ensure that the baby was born as close as possible to the due date.
Still, Valentina gave birth at 32 weeks. Fortunately, with the help of doctors and the medical staff, Kosta, although born prematurely, was a healthy baby.
“We had our first contact immediately after I gave birth. I just saw him, the doctor said look, the baby’s okay, he’s healthy. I just touched the baby and then he had to get examined by the doctor,” Valentina Milosevski recalls. “The next time, since I stayed at the hospital for four more days, he was in intensive care in the incubator. We had no real contact, they just let me touch him when I was leaving, because I was leaving and we would be apart for a while.”
For the next 34 days, Kosta was separated from his mom and dad. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no contact with the baby was possible. They couldn’t even bring him breastmilk. But Valentina did not give up on her intention to breastfeed.
“Then I started expressing milk, to try and maintain the supply, as much as I could with the stress. I tried to sleep as much as I could, to eat regularly, and as healthy as possible.”
For Kosta’s parents, it was a period of uncertainty. What kept Vanentina going, was her will to breastfeed Kosta once he got home. And her husband Marko was her biggest supporter.
“Valentina decided to maintain her milk supply, to be able to breastfeed when Kosta came home. So he can grow up being breastfed. I supported her in that period, when he was away, to maintain the milk supply,” says Marko Brasanac. “She was regularly expressing during that month, so she could continue breastfeeding him. It was stressful for her, she was expressing milk every three hours. It was also stressful for me watching her, because the baby was not with us. We bought bags to store it, we froze the milk to give it to him if she ran out by the time he got home, but luckily she succeeded. We succeeded and that period is now behind us.”
In addition to her husband and her loved ones, Valentina had another important pillar of support. While she was still pregnant, the visiting nurse Snezana came into their lives.
“Valentina and Marko are great parents, I met them together, when they were attending the Parenting School. Being together in everything from the start shows how great their family is. The dad’s important for a child’s development. But it’s also important that both parents are satisfied, that the mom is satisfied. Then the child will of course be satisfied as well.”
Valentina says that the most important thing for her was that she could call the visiting nurse at any time and ask for advice. Including the long 34 days when she was separated from her baby, but even after Kosta came home.
“I had a great relationship with the visiting nurse, I could ask her anything, about any concern I had. After coming back from Belgrade [from the hospital after giving birth], I called her and she came and said: I’ll come every day if I need to,” says Valentina.
Kosta’s parents were each other’s biggest support.
“He was there for me. We went through all of it together. He did everything he could to make it easier for me,” Valentina explains, while Marko adds: “I supported her by always being there for her, taking care of the main responsibilities, convincing her that everything would be all right with the baby even though he was born prematurely.”
But three months after Kosta came, a new challenge arose. Valentina and Marko tested positive for COVID-19. Luckily, they only had mild symptoms. They always kept in touch with the visiting nurse Snezana and were able to receive necessary advice through teleworking, via video calls.
“We have a platform thanks to the Playful Parenting Programme and the materials we provided to pregnant women clearly say they can breastfeed [when they have COVID-19] and that breastfeeding is completely fine even during that period,” Snezana says.
“I didn't have pneumonia, so I didn't take antibiotics. I could breastfeed him all the time. He was fine the entire time and he got immunity through me,” explains Valentina.
“Every visiting nurse contacts the parents, leaves her phone number so they can call her whenever they need help. But trust is key, and trust must be earned. And here, just like with every other family, I gained their trust by being available and giving them advice,” explains Snezana. “Valentina has really been a hero mom, during the entire time she was separated from her baby she maintained her milk supply. They were positive for COVID-19 and that whole situation was very complex, but she had such a desire, such a huge will to breastfeed her baby, that she actually maintained her milk supply and she’s still breastfeeding her baby.”
Kosta eats solid foods now too, he loves walks and can’t wait for his dad to come home from work, because then he gets stories and poems that his dad writes just for him.
“I participate in all segments of his growing up, from changing him to getting Kosta to sleep. More and more we play and read, picture books and other books appropriate for his age,” Marko says. “Daddy, Kosta and I are doing just fine now,” adds Valentina.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, based on expert recommendations from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, the “National Instructions for the Care and Nutrition of Newborns and Mothers with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 Infection in Hospital or Home Isolation” were prepared, and soon after that the “Guidelines” and the “Procedure for Home Visits during the COVID-19 Pandemic” followed. Within the “Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on children and families in the Western Balkans and Turkey” project funded by the European Union through the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), learning sessions, continuous supervision and Yammer online exchange were organized for visiting nurses. In this way, the quality of remote counselling, Teleworking, provided by 143 home visiting nurses from 18 primary health care centres in the country, was strengthened.
*This story and video are part of the programme ‘Mitigation of the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of children and parents in the Western Balkans and Turkey’, which has received funding from the European Union.