Breastfeeding – The Ultimate Superpower through the COVID-19 Pandemic
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of living through the COVID-19 pandemic whilst pregnant or breastfeeding a newborn (or for all of us for that matter!) is the rapid rate of transmission from one person to another, and sometimes from a person without any symptoms whatsoever.
Understandably, as a pregnant or breastfeeding mother you are wondering if the virus can be passed from you to your baby and what you can do to protect yourselves and your families. Research is ongoing but from the limited research and data we do have it is believed that the virus is NOT transmitted in pregnancy or through breast milk. This is a promising start and is reassuring to all mothers to continue close contact and continue breastfeeding your babies for as long as possible.
The protective power that breastfeeding and breast milk has against infections and illness in newborns and infants is now more relevant than ever before. During breastfeeding protective antibodies are transferred directly from your breastmilk to your baby, strengthening your baby’s own immune system. Breastfeeding and breast milk feeding really is your superpower right now!
The current recommendations are that breastfeeding can safely continue whilst taking care with hygiene, even when a mother has tested positive for the virus. The messages to mums are:
Wash your hands well before handling your baby and before breastfeeding, and before handling expressing equipment or bottles;
If you have any respiratory symptoms you should wear a face mask whilst breastfeeding (and get tested);
Keep your feeding area and surfaces clean with disinfectant;
If you do have symptoms or have tested positive to COVID-19 and you feel well enough you should continue to breastfeed. If you are feeling too unwell to feed you may need to express your milk and have someone help you feed your baby;
Take particular care with cleaning and sterilising expressing equipment, formula equipment, bottles and teats if needed;
Maintain your milk supply as best you can – this might include expressing and seeking support from a lactation consultant.
Continued breastfeeding is paramount to your baby’s protection from COVID-19 and so support for mothers to breastfeed confidently has never been more needed. However, restrictions and social distancing requirements have limited the services delivered by mother support groups, breastfeeding and Maternal & Child Health Centres, home visiting from lactation consultants and limited access is available to GP clinics and hospitals. Even much needed support from extended family is limited and mums are saying that they have never felt more isolated and overwhelmed.
So how can you get the help and support you need to continue to breastfeed confidently and for as long as you possibly can?
* Support is still out there! It’s just moved online. Support from your health nurse, midwife, lactation consultant, GP or other health professional is still available but may be via a phone or video link consultation.
* Whilst video link consults are no substitute for a face-to-face consultation they can be more helpful than you might think. You might have shorter but more frequent sessions with your lactation consultant and build a trusting relationship that can be longer term and better sustain you through your challenges.
* Online mothers groups are a great way to stay connected and share your journey with other mothers experiencing similar fears and struggles and to just have some other human contact! Check out the Mama You've Got This groups, sign up on the Contact page.
* Try not to be afraid, these are unprecedented times, yes, but you have the ultimate superpower in providing breast milk to your little one. The expertise and supports you might need throughout your breastfeeding journey are still there, it just looks different for now.
So hold tight lovely mamas! Stay connected and together you can breastfeed your way through this pandemic!
WHO, UNICEF, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention & Australian Breastfeeding Association online guidelines and breastfeeding advice during COVID-19 pandemic, and Medium.