Continuing to breastfeed your baby through Coronavirus (Covid-19) and other respiratory infections.
The novel Coronavirus currently in the news is a rapidly evolving global medical situation with limited information at this time but the World Health Organisation stands firm in encouraging all families to recognise the importance of breastfeeding in providing immunological protections to the breastfed child. Most often, babies who are breastfed remain healthy even when their parents or other family members fall ill with an infectious illness. There is a growing body of research showing babies benefit from multiple and diverse immunologic proteins, including antibodies, provided in human milk, particularly through direct breastfeeding.
Mothers who become infected shortly before giving birth and then begin breastfeeding and mothers who become infected while breastfeeding,will produce specific secretory IgA antibodies and many other critical immune factors in their milk to protect their breastfed babies and enhance their babies’ own immune responses. At this time, these immunologic factors will aid their babies’ bodies to respond more effectively to exposure and infection. Following good hygiene practices will also reduce transfer of the virus.
If a mother who is breastfeeding becomes ill, it is important not to interrupt direct breastfeeding.
Disruption of breastfeeding may lead to several issues:
· significant emotional trauma for the breastfed baby or toddler.
· a drop in milk supply due to the need to express milk.
· later breast refusal by the baby due to the introduction of bottles.
· a decrease in protective immune factors due to lack of direct breastfeeding and expressed milk not matching the baby’s needs at a particular time.
· an increased risk of the baby becoming ill due to lack of immune support from direct
The last point is of critical importance; when any member of the family has been exposed, the baby has been exposed. Therefore, any interruption of breastfeeding may actually increase the baby’s risk of becoming ill.
A mother who believes she may have Coronavirus is encouraged to follow good hygiene practices, such as thoroughly washing their hands and wearing a protective mask to prevent spread of the virus. If a mother becomes ill enough to require hospitalisation, the baby should be allowed to continue breastfeeding if at all possible, keeping in mind the above list of possible results from any separation or disruption of breastfeeding. In an extreme circumstance, if an interruption is medically necessary, hand expressing or pumping the milk is encouraged. In such cases, the expressed milk, which contains multiple immune factors, may be fed to the baby to help prevent the baby from getting the infection or to help reduce the severity and duration of an infection if the baby does get sick.
All of the above information also applies to families at risk of or experiencing influenza and other respiratory viruses.
Take care everyone,
Mary Smart IBCLC