New Delhi: As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the globe, concerns are growing about the implications of its effects on various sections and vulnerable groups. It is now known that the infection is more dangerous for the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, but how vulnerable are the nursing mothers and can COVID-19 be transmitted from a mother to a newborn through breastfeeding? According to Dr. Shweta Khandelwal, nutrition expert at Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a not for profit public-private initiative working towards strengthening health in India, pregnant and lactating mother must be very careful but need not panic. She said,
Pregnancy itself is a vulnerable stage as we nurture another life within us. So yes, pregnant and lactating mothers must be very careful during this time when COVID-19 is causing all this catastrophe globally but they need not panic.
She further said that breastfeeding mothers should maintain hygiene, avoid unnecessary contact with people or surfaces, meditate, stay calm, eat healthily, be hydrated and rest well. She said,
There is no extra risk of getting infected if we observe all the above carefully. Even the WHO guidelines spell this out clearly assuring that lactating mothers should breastfeed without hesitation.
According to Dr. Rakesh Sahay, Endocrinologist and Diabetologist, and Professor at Osmania Medical College in Hyderabad,
The breastmilk is not going to transmit the infection but the aerosol generated from the mother if she is sick can transmit the infection. Therefore the mother needs to take the precautions to prevent the child from infections.
When it comes to nursing mothers, however, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that a woman with COVID-19 should be supported to breastfeed because breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life. Therefore, pregnant women and nursing mothers who are having a hard time worrying about the nutrition that your baby deserves, here are some breastfeeding tips that WHO suggests.
Actions Required To Be Taken By COVID-19 Positive Breastfeeding Mothers
– Practice respiratory hygiene, including during feeding
– Use a medical mask when near your child
– Wash your hands thoroughly with soap or sanitizer before and after contact with your child
– Routinely clean and disinfect any surfaces you touch
WHO further recommends that if the mother is severely ill with COVID-19 then she should be encouraged to express milk (squeeze milk from the breast) and give it to the child via a clean spoon/cup. If she is too unwell to express breastmilk then she can resort to relactation, a process of resuming breastfeeding after a gap or using donor human milk. WHO says,
If you, your infants, or young children have suspected or confirmed COVID-19, seek breastfeeding counselling, basic psychosocial support, or practical feeding support. You may get support from appropriately trained health care professionals and also community-based lay and peer breastfeeding counsellors.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also says that the mother can continue breastfeeding while practising all necessary precautions.