COVID-19 and breastfeeding: Infection isn't currently known to spread through breast milk, but use of pump is recommended

Breastfeeding and weaning are delicate and necessary processes for the development of a child, but when the mother falls sick during this time, there can be a disruption.

Myupchar June 11, 2020 20:36:15 IST
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COVID-19 and breastfeeding: Infection isn't currently known to spread through breast milk, but use of pump is recommended

Breast milk is the primary source of nutrition for all newborns. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by a gradual introduction of semi-solid and solid foods through a process called weaning. Breastfeeding and weaning are delicate and necessary processes for the development of a child, but when the mother falls sick during this time, there can be a disruption.

As a study published in the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology in 2006 explains, breast milk is not sterile and it carries nutrients as well as microorganisms found in the mother’s body and skin. One of the main reasons why breastfeeding is recommended for six months is because it helps pass all the antibodies a mother has to the baby, which protects him or her until all vaccinations are given to the infant.

But what if you fall sick during this period, and worry about passing your disease on to the baby? Should you stop breastfeeding until you recover and start the process of weaning early? Here’s what you need to know.

COVID19 and breastfeeding Infection isnt currently known to spread through breast milk but use of pump is recommended

Representational image. Reuters

Non-communicable diseases and breastfeeding

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) clearly pose much less of a risk, and yet doctors ensure that tests are done on both the mother and the child’s blood to ensure there will be no complications. For example, according to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), babies born to diabetic mothers are monitored for 24 hours and their blood sugar levels are checked before and after every feed to ensure there are no abnormalities.

A study in The Medical Clinics of North America in 1989 mentions how mothers with chronic diseases can - and should - breastfeed with medical approval and come up with ways to manage lactation because the benefits of breastfeeding far exceed the risks of transmission in such cases. Management of the NCD and lactation can, therefore, go hand in hand. A recent study in Breastfeeding Medicine also showed that even women with breast cancer, ones who’ve had breast surgeries, or those getting chemotherapy and endocrine therapy don’t have to give up on breastfeeding if proper healthcare is available to them.

Infectious diseases and breastfeeding

You might think that infectious diseases cannot possibly allow for breastfeeding - after all the risk of transmission is much higher with a viral, bacterial or fungal infection. But the 2006 study mentioned above stipulates that in case of a breastfeeding mother who has an infectious disease, chances are that she would have already passed on the pathogens to the baby before the symptoms are noted and a diagnosis is made.

Stopping breastfeeding at this point would be useless, and even dangerous as taking away the only source of immune-boosting nutrients from the baby can reduce his or her ability to defend against any and all infections. So, even with infectious diseases — even ones like mastitis — continuing with breastfeeding is recommended by most doctors.

For diseases like hepatitis, vaccinations are given to mother and child soon after birth and before breastfeeding is initiated. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this type of management ensures that breastfeeding is safe if the mother has hepatitis B or C. Some infectious diseases, however, pose a different set of parameters.

COVID-19: This is a new disease and research about it is still in the early stages. Current information indicates that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is not passed through breast milk. To avoid skin-to-skin transmission, new mothers who are COVID-19 positive are recommended the use of a breast pump to provide breast milk to the newborn. Isolation from the infant is also recommended as a safety measure.

Tuberculosis: TB is extremely virulent, so according to the WHO, a mother with this disease can breastfeed if she’s been taking medications for it for two weeks or more. If not, both mother and child should be given preventive chemotherapy for six months.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus: If you’re HIV positive, then breastfeeding is not an option for you until vaccines or medications are developed to completely stop the transmission.

For more information, read our article on Benefits of breastfeeding.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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