Do’s & Don’ts of Breastfeeding if you are COVID-19 Positive

By Dr. Vanshika Gupta Adukia, Pregnancy/Childbirth & Lactation Specialist, Prenatal – Postnatal Fitness Expert, Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and the Founder of Therhappy. 

Dr. Vanshika Gupta-Adukia is a Pregnancy Specialist and the Founder of Therhappy. She is an internationally certified Pre and Post Natal Fitness Educator, a CAPPA certified Childbirth & Lactation Educator Counselor and a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist. Her keen interest in women’s health, curiosity about childbirth and life of a fetus in a mother’s womb led her to venture in the journey of birthing and beyond. 

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Breast Milk is known to be the most reliable source of nutrition for babies. Even in times of the global COVID-19 pandemic, breastfeeding is believed to be the key source of nutrition that helps infants in fighting with the infection and building their immunity.

Studies have found no traces of the coronavirus in human breast milk; therefore, the WHO recommends that a COVID-19 positive mother must continue to breastfeed her baby as long as she wishes to.

The health benefits of breastfeeding are well known and widely accepted. One cannot turn a blind eye towards a COVID-19 positive mother’s, dilemma and hesitancy with regards to breastfeeding her baby.

Research indicates that newborns and infants, although believed to be susceptible to the COVID-19 infection at a comparatively lower rate, develop the infection unlike adults. Infants can get infected through inhalation of droplet particles as breastfeeding is an intimate process. The mother comes in direct contact with the child during the practice which becomes the primary reason of concern amongst mothers. It makes them feel weary about risking the well-being of their child.

While a COVID-19 positive, breastfeeding mother’s concerns are valid. Simple precautionary measures may help safeguard the little one, without having to give up on breastmilk as the chosen form of food source for the baby.

Precautionary measures for a COVID-19 positive mother:

  1. Breastfeed with a mask on, to prevent the transfer of droplet infection to the baby.
  2. Clean the skin on the breast before latching the baby on to feed.
  3. Look at maintaining complete sanitation and hygiene levels by washing hands with soap, for a minimum of 20 seconds, both before and after the feed. If hand washing with soap is not viable, look at using an alcohol-based sanitizer (containing 65%-95% alcohol).
  4. Clean and disinfectant any surface that the baby may come in contact with while breastfeeding is underway.
  5. Look at self-isolating as far as possible. Opinions and recommendations on separating the baby from the COVID-19 positive mother remain divided and therefore unclear till date.

If one chooses to keep the baby with themselves, one must ensure a mask is worn at all times around the little one.

If a COVID-19 positive mother wishes to give her baby breastmilk but chooses not to breastfeed, she may look at expressing the breast milk instead.

(Steps 1 to 5 listed above as suggestions for breastfeeding mums must be followed here too, in addition to those the following steps can be practiced)

  1. The expressed breastmilk can be fed to the baby by the guardian/care taker without coming in contact with the mother.
  2. If a breast pump is being used to express the breastmilk, the pump must be cleaned before and after pumping. The parts of the pump must be taken apart, rinsed and cleaned in soap water.
  3. The expressed breastmilk must be stored as per the breastmilk storage guidelines and it must never be heated on a stove, microwaved or shaken vigorously.
  4. If the mother mistakenly happens to cough or sneeze on the bare chest, equipment or surface around, she must thoroughly cleanse the skin, equipment and surroundings once again.