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HEALTH PLUS MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT

Breastfeeding is undeniably a beautiful bonding experience. However, a natural process is not how most new mothers describe it. In fact, 92 percent of new mothers report having difficulty nursing, according to research by American Academy of Paediatrics and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Just like any other skill, breastfeeding needs to be learned by both participants, and this skill takes time and a compassionate non-judgmental approach.

There are several variables that make breastfeeding challenging, to which the uncertainties and concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbate. Expectant mothers around the world are expressing their anxieties in forums, seeking answers to these uncertainties.

We share here with you, expert advice from World Health Organization (WHO) and new mothers alike.

Can breast milk transmit the COVID-19?

NO. The transmission of the COVID-19 virus through breast milk and breastfeeding has not been detected (to this date). While breastfeeding, a mother should still implement appropriate respiratory hygiene measures, including wearing a medical mask if available and strict hand sanitization, to reduce the possibility of droplets with COVID-19 being spread to her infant.

Is breastfeeding recommended during the coronavirus outbreak?

YES. Breastfeeding is particularly effective against infectious diseases because it strengthens the immune system by directly transferring antibodies from the mother. As with all confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, mothers with any symptoms who are breastfeeding or practicing skin-to-skin contact should exercise proper respiratory hygiene practices.

Following delivery, should a baby still be immediately placed skin-to-skin and breastfed if the mother is confirmed/suspected to have COVID-19?

YES. Immediate and continued skin-to-skin care, including kangaroo mother care, improves thermal regulation of newborns and several other physiological outcomes, and is associated with reduced neonatal mortality. The numerous benefits of skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks of transmission and illness associated with COVID-19.

Is there any risk if I breastfeed my baby if I have COVID-19?

The consequences of not breastfeeding and separation between mother and child can be significant. At present, data are not sufficient to conclude vertical transmission of COVID-19 through breastfeeding.

Can my baby continue breastfeeding or drinking expressed breast milk if I test positive for COVID-19?

YES, babies can still receive breast milk even if you test positive for COVID-19.

Direct breastfeeding. If you want to breastfeed directly, wash your hands with soap and water before holding your baby and wear a face mask while nursing. Holding your baby skin-to-skin helps the baby latch on and helps trigger milk release.

Pumping breast milk. To pump or express your breast milk, put on a face mask, wash your hands well and clean any pump parts, bottles and artificial nipples. Express milk as often as your baby feeds, or at least six to eight times per 24 hours. The expressed milk can be fed to your baby by a healthy caregiver.

Remember:

While this may be a stressful time, try to stay optimistic and practice healthy habits to reduce stress as much as possible. This includes getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, staying hydrated, getting regular exercise and seeking support to express breast milk, if necessary.

Breastfeeding is a journey, one that takes adjusting to and will always be what’s best for baby, even during the pandemic.