The coronavirus has caused massive upheaval in everyone's lives, and, understandably, new mothers are especially worried about the impact of this global crisis on their little ones.
One of the main concerns facing new mums is how to breastfeed safely during the coronavirus, or if you even should breastfeed during the pandemic.
It is important to note that information regarding COVID-19 is continuously revised as new information becomes available. While this information is up to date at the time of writing, be sure to stay vigilant and informed of any further advice regarding breastfeeding during the coronavirus.
What are the Symptoms of COVID-19?
The current evidence states that this strain of coronavirus presents as having flu-like symptoms. These include a high temperature, a cough, and experiencing breathing difficulties. The present situation in the UK and Ireland state that, should you experience these symptoms, you should enter a period of self-isolation, along with anyone else in your household.
Unfortunately, the incubation period, the time between being exposed to the virus and showing symptoms, is around one to two weeks, and you can be contagious during this time. If you find yourself exposed to someone who has tested positive, or someone tests positive within two weeks of close contact with you, you should self-isolate.
Is It Safe to Breastfeed if I Have COVID-19?
Presently, it is not believed to be dangerous to breastfeed if you are diagnosed or think you might have symptoms of COVID-19. Indeed, with all the nutrition that breastmilk provides, breastfeeding should be considered an essential step to keeping your baby healthy.
Of course, you should take proper precautions to ensure you do not transmit the virus to your newborn. If you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, or you have tested positive for the virus, you should be sure to wash your hands before holding the infant. If you are not well enough to breastfeed, expressing milk is perfectly acceptable. However, sterilizing equipment, such as breast pumps, after every use is more important than ever. If you have access to a face mask, you should wear it during the feeding process.
Is Donor Breastmilk an Option?
Donor milk, generally available from a milk bank, is available in cases where breastfeeding is not an option. However, supplies of donor breastmilk are limited with priority going to premature babies and babies that are particularly unwell. If your situation falls into this category, you may be able to get donor milk. Be sure to thoroughly clean any containers used in transporting the milk before and after use.
Can I Share Breastmilk?
Sharing breastmilk outside of official channels, such as the milk banks mentioned above, is not recommended. While COVID-19 has not been detected in breastmilk, it is still highly contagious through personal contact, and on the surfaces an infected person has been near.
Following government guidelines regarding handwashing, and wearing masks if possible, will mitigate these risks, but if at all possible, informal milk sharing should be avoided.
Is Skin-to-Skin Safe?
There is continually growing evidence that skin-to-skin contact with your infant is beneficial for both baby and mother. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has deemed it okay to hold your baby for skin-to-skin contact if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or believe you may have been exposed to it.
Of course, you should take proper precautions. If you can wear a mask, do so. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after holding your baby. If possible, have an intermediary location, such as a spare bedroom, where contact can take place. Ideally, you would remain separated from your baby the rest of the time and only use this room for activities such as breastfeeding. Any surfaces in the room should be thoroughly cleaned in between uses.
Formula Feeding During COVID-19
Formula feeding is mostly unchanged by the pandemic, save for the increased need to ensure everything is clean before and after use. You may find it more difficult to find your preferred brand of formula, but you should be able to find a similar brand. All first infant formula preparations are required to have certain ingredients by law, so your infant will get what they need regardless of the brand. For babies over six months old, the first infant formula will be fine if you cannot get the brand you prefer.
Do not alter the mixture from what is directed on the tin, including adding more water to make the formula last longer. This can be dangerous for your baby, as it reduces the nutrition in each feed. If your local supermarket or shops do not have any formula, be sure to try online stores such as Amazon.
I am a Health Worker. Can I Express Milk at Work?
Life is hard for our fantastic health workers now. Unfortunately, it does not get any easier in this area. If you are caring for COVID-19 patients or are working in an area where the virus may be around, it is not wise to express milk.
The virus is amazingly effective and transmitting via surfaces, such as on your breast pump or the bottles you store your milk in. If possible, keep your bottles and a breast pump in a sealed bag. When it comes time to use them, only do so in a room that is regularly disinfected and not used to treat COVID-19 patients. Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands before expressing and try to express alone if possible. When you are done expressing, keep your bottles and pump in the sealed bag. Preferably, the bag should be washable so that it can be disinfected before opening.
I Feel Unwell and Believe I May Have COVID-19
If you believe you may have been infected with COVID-19, you should not attempt to go to the hospital or your doctor. Instead, call 111 if you are in the UK, or your local GP if you are in Ireland. You will be diagnosed over the phone and instructed from there.
It is important to note that, while ibuprofen is considered a safe medication to take while breastfeeding in regular times, there is uncertainty over its safety for COVID-19 patients. While there is no definitive proof that ibuprofen (or other anti-inflammatory medications) exacerbate COVID-19 symptoms, it might be worth avoiding using the drug if possible. If you have been prescribed this kind of medication by your doctor, however, do not stop taking it without first talking to them.
Breastfeeding during the coronavirus pandemic is not only allowed but encouraged. Though not always backed by hard evidence, there are many correlations between breastfeeding and positive physical and mental traits in growing babies. There is no reason to deny your infant these potential benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.
As with all things during the crisis, proper hygiene and caution should be observed in all your actions. Keep yourself and your baby clean, as well as any equipment, containers, and surfaces you use. If you think you may have been exposed to the virus (or have tested positive), you should take extra caution while handling your baby. You do not need to avoid contact with them, however.
Finally, do not neglect your mental health. Having a baby may be a magical thing but being a new mum can also be a very trying time, even without the specter of COVID-19 looming over us all. There are many resources available to help you get through these times, including the National Breastfeeding Helpline. If you are a single parent in isolation during this time, it is crucial that you communicate regularly with friends and family. Do not suffer in silence.
This article was written by Conor O’Flynn of O’Flynn Medical. O’Flynn Medical are leading suppliers of breast pumps in Ireland. They have expert knowledge regarding breastfeeding during Covid-19 as they have continued to work with hospitals and healthcare facilities throughout lockdown to ensure new-born is and their mothers have the equipment, they need to stay healthy.