The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has new moms all over America asking what is (and isn’t) safe for their babies and for themselves. One of the biggest concerns is the overall health and safety when it comes to breastfeeding.
August marks Breastfeeding Awareness Month and with the COVID-19 crisis still affecting millions, we wanted to know what breastfeeding will look like for new moms now, and in the future.
We spoke to breastfeeding experts to get a better idea of what new moms should know in the coronavirus era when it comes to caring for, and feeding, their babies.
Is Breastfeeding Still Safe During Coronavirus?
It feels strange to breathe a sigh of relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s exactly what moms can do when it comes to breastfeeding during the crisis. “A mother’s body is the safest place and her milk is the best source of immune support and nutrition for her baby,” explains Nadine Rosenblum, R.N., I.B.C.L.C., lead clinical nurse and lactation consultant at Johns Hopkins.
Breast milk provides antibodies to many pathogens, including COVID-19, Rosenblum says. “Our babies may be the best protected of us all.”
Those aren’t the only benefits of breastfeeding during this time, adds Dr. Dyan Hes, founder of Gramercy Pediatrics. “[Breastfeeding] creates a bond between mom and baby as well,” Hes points out, noting that it can emotionally benefit mothers, which can be especially helpful during these trying times.
How to Safely Breastfeed During Coronavirus
We know the rules when it comes to going out into the world during the coronavirus (masks, distancing, handwashing, etc.) but do these also apply to breastfeeding? In certain instances, yes.
“Good hand washing is key,” says Hes. She also says that if a mom feels like she is getting sick, “she should contact her physician and begin to wear a mask and gloves when handling her baby.” Moms in this scenario should also wear a mask at all times and, if possible, ask another adult to help out to minimize exposure to the baby.
Hes points out that since COVID-19 is spread through droplets, it will not be spread via breast milk; however, it could happen from droplets falling on the baby, which is why a mask is important.
If you’re out of the home and need to breastfeed, Hes assures that breastfeeding in a public space can still be safe so long as the mother maintains the six feet of social distancing from others and wears her mask.
However, when possible, the less contact with the outside world is ultimately better, as there is less risk for both mom and baby. “It really depends upon the rate of COVID and where you live,” Hes says, adding, “Also remember an infant cannot wear a mask, so if you go for a walk try to social distance and pull a sunshade over the baby stroller.”
Breastfeeding If You’ve Tested Positive for COVID-19
Coming back with a positive COVID-19 test can be a terrifying scenario for anyone, including moms. But, for mothers who are breastfeeding, there is actually good news that comes with the diagnosis.
“Testing positive for COVID-19 is the best reason to continue breastfeeding since the mother’s milk will provide protective benefits to the baby,” Rosenblum explains, adding, “By the time the mother is aware of her COVID status, the rest of the household is also exposed, including the baby. The safest course is to continue breastfeeding to share the benefits of mother’s milk with the baby, rather than to remove this protection.”
You don’t have to change pumping or using bottles to feed the baby, either, Rosenblum notes, however, you should pay additional attention to bottle cleaning (i.e. using hot, soapy water after each use).
“Recommendations for frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces and objects are the same with breastfeeding, breast pumping and other infant feeding tools,” Roseblum says, “Commit to frequent hand washing, frequent and thorough washing with soap and hot water of all infant feeding tools, ensure high touch surfaces are cleaned and sanitized routinely.”
However, if a mother who has tested positive for COVID-19 is so sick that she requires hospitalization, Rosemblum says that, when possible, expressing her milk to continue feeding the baby is recommended.
Dealing with the Stress of Breastfeeding During the Coronavirus
Breastfeeding can already fill moms with anxieties and fears, and adding a global pandemic on top of that certainly doesn’t help matters. “We have seen a high increase in postpartum depression and anxiety since the pandemic started,” Hes says.
Hes suggests new moms feeling overwhelmed right now reach out to support groups, as “mothers who need support are often left alone to fend for themselves” and “If you are feeling down or overwhelmed it is important to ask for help.”
Rosenblum echoes this sentiment, noting that feeling anxious during this time is completely understandable and resources like lactation consultants and online groups can be especially beneficial.