What You Need to Know About Breastfeeding During Coronavirus
According to the World Health Organization, it is still not known if a pregnant woman with Covid-19 can pass the virus to her foetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery. To date, the virus has not been found in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk.
Since there is currently no evidence that the virus can be passed via breastmilk, and there is strong evidence that breastfeeding reduces the risk of babies developing infectious diseases, the World Health Organization is encouraging mothers with Covid-19 to breastfeed their babies if they wish to. Every drop of breastmilk contains millions of white blood cells which destroy harmful viruses and bacteria. Breastmilk also contains infection-fighting proteins known as immunoglobulins, which are like natural antibiotics.
If you have Covid-19 and you would like to breastfeed your baby, it is recommended that you:
- Practice respiratory hygiene during feeding, by avoiding coughing or sneezing on your baby, and wearing a mask or suitable alternative if available.
- Wash your hands before and after touching your baby.
- Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces you have touched.
- Clean any infant feeding equipment, including breast pumps, bottles and teats thoroughly before and after use.
All the things that can help with establishing breastfeeding under normal circumstances, are even more important at the moment.
- If you are having a low risk pregnancy, there is evidence that doing some antenatal harvesting of colostrum (your first milk) from 36 weeks of pregnancy is safe and can be helpful in building your confidence in your body’s ability to feed your baby. Having some syringes of colostrum to take into hospital can act as a safety net and help you feel more relaxed.
- Having uninterrupted skin to skin with your baby for a couple of hours immediately following birth helps enormously with bonding. When babies breastfeed at this time, they are likely to ‘remember’ how to breastfeed later on.
- Continuing to do lots of skin to skin in the early hours and days will help bring your mature milk in sooner and help you establish a good milk supply.
- Keeping your baby close and feeding them as soon as they show any feeding cues will also help your milk supply. In the early months, babies need to breastfeed on both breasts 10 or more times a day.
I can only imagine how stressful having a baby must be at the moment. However, there are some significant silver linings. One is that fathers and partners are at home for much longer than usual, allowing them more time to bond with their babies. Also, knowing that their partner isn’t going to disappear back to work can come as a big relief at a time when most women feel overwhelmed at the enormity of their new role.
Several couples have told me that although they feel sad that their parents haven’t been able to hold their grandchild, they’re really enjoying being in a ‘baby bubble’, focusing solely on their newborn, taking things slow and easy, without the distraction of a stream of visitors. There’s no pressure to clean the house, host others or even get dressed!
In some cases, parents say that using their intuition to figure out what works for them and their baby, without the distraction of advice from friends and family, has made these early days less stressful.
Many cultures recognise the importance of allowing a new mother and her child to bond without interruption from the outside world for the first 40 days; this practice is known as ‘lying-in’. Lying-in is still common in many countries.
Support is still available
Since baby clinics and breastfeeding drop-ins are currently closed, many pregnant women are worried about how they will cope. In fact, quite a few drop-ins are now being run virtually. In addition, support is available via dedicated breastfeeding phones lines, all run by trained breastfeeding counsellors. And many breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants are offering video consultations. Numerous times over the past few weeks, via WhatsApp or FaceTime, with partners holding the phone, I’ve been able to explain to a mother how to achieve a much more comfortable latch. I’ve also been able to diagnose several tongue ties.
Some parents have decided to invest in baby scales, so they don’t need to visit a clinic or hospital to get their baby weighed, though weighing more than once a week is not recommended.
Breastfeeding older nurslings in lockdown
Many of my clients are enormously relieved that they are still breastfeeding their older babies or toddlers due to the health protections in breastmilk, and because it’s available on tap. In addition, since breastmilk is a major provider of protein, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, it can act as a valuable safety net when older nurslings are unwell and not eating much solid food. Mothers are also finding breastfeeding provides comfort and security at a time when lots of young ones are sensing their parents’ stress and anxiety.
Keep notice of your local government and health advisory guidelines as the situation with Covid-19 can change. As well, information provided within this article is subject to change.
Breastfeeding lines in the UK:
National Breastfeeding Helpline: 0300 100 0212.
NCT feeding line: 0300 330 0700 (option 1). The line is open from 8am to midnight, including bank holidays.
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers: 0300 330 5453.
La Leche League: 0345 120 2918.
The WHO guidance:
Covid-19 Pregnancy, Childbirth and Breastfeeding