Breastfeeding safely during the COVID-19 pandemic
How to nourish your child following the current expert guidance.
If you're a mother or expecting, it is only natural to have questions about what is safest for your baby during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evidence is overwhelmingly in support of breastfeeding. The transmission of COVID-19 through breastfeeding or by giving breastmilk has not been detected. Breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact and early, exclusive breastfeeding helps your baby to thrive and provides lifelong health benefits.
Here are some answers to common questions from new and expecting mothers to help provide the safest experience for you and your baby, whether you’re feeling healthy or experiencing signs and symptoms of COVID.
Should I breastfeed during the pandemic?
Yes. There is no evidence to date that the COVID-19 virus is transmitted through breastfeeding.
Breastmilk provides antibodies that give babies everywhere a healthy boost and protect them against many infections. Breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of death in newborns and young infants, provides lifelong health benefits for children, and improves the health of mothers as well.
Engage in skin-to-skin contact with your newborn. Placing your newborn close to you enables the early initiation of breastfeeding. Timing is everything and it is recommended to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour after delivery.
If your baby is 6 months old or younger, he should be breastfed exclusively. Once your child is over 6 months, continue breastfeeding with safe and healthy complementary foods.
Can you pass COVID-19 to your baby by breastfeeding?
To date, active COVID-19 (virus that can cause infection) has not been detected in the breastmilk of any mother with COVID-19, so it is unlikely that COVID-19 can be transmitted through breastmilk. Researchers are continuing to test breastmilk from mothers with confirmed and suspected COVID-19.
Should I breastfeed if I have or suspect I have COVID-19?
Yes, you should continue breastfeeding with appropriate precautions. The transmission of COVID-19 through breastmilk and breastfeeding has not been detected.
Precautions include wearing a medical mask if available, washing your hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub before and after touching your baby, and routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces you have touched. Your chest only needs to be washed if you have just coughed on it. Otherwise, your breast does not need to be washed before every feeding.
Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I'm breastfeeding or providing expressed milk?
Yes, the COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for healthy individuals who are lactating or expressing milk.
Is it safe to continue breastfeeding after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes, you should continue breastfeeding after vaccination to protect your baby. None of the WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines currently being used contain the live virus, so there is no risk of passing the virus to your baby through breastmilk.
What should I do if I’m too unwell to breastfeed?
If you are feeling too sick to nurse, try to find other ways to safely provide your child with breastmilk. Try expressing milk and giving to your child via a clean cup or spoon. You could also consider donor human milk if available in your area. Speak to your breastfeeding counsellor or healthcare professional about the options available to you.
Expressing breastmilk is also important to sustain milk production so you can breastfeed your child again when you feel well enough to do so. There is no fixed time interval to wait after confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
If expressing milk or donor human milk aren’t possible, then consider wet nursing if culturally accepted or infant formula milk provided it is correctly prepared, safe and readily available.
Should I breastfeed if my child is sick?
Continue to breastfeed your child if she becomes ill. Whether your little one contracts COVID-19 or another illness, it is important to continue nourishing her with breastmilk. Breastfeeding boosts your baby’s immune system, and your antibodies are passed to her through breastmilk, helping her to fight infections.
What precautions should I take when breastfeeding?
Make sure to follow handwashing guidelines. Your hands should be washed with soap and water before and after touching your baby. You may also use an alcohol-based hand rub. It is also important to clean and disinfect any surfaces that you have touched.
Wash breastmilk pumps, milk storage containers and feeding utensils after every use as usual.
What coronavirus means for breastfeeding
For more information on breastfeeding during COVID-19 see guidance by the World Health Organization.
Article by Mandy Rich, Digital Content Writer, UNICEF
This article was originally published on 28 May 2020. It was last updated on 29 July 2021.