Can I breastfeed if I have COVID-19?
The pandemic is fast-moving. One moment we’re in groups of six, the next we’re in lockdown 2.0. What we are certain of is how much it’s disrupted normal life across the globe, with every walk of life being affected.
Since the onset of COVID-19, questions regarding possible methods of transmission – including the safety of breastfeeding mothers and babies have been particularly important. For all parents with new babies and young children, the rise in cases can be cause for alarm and concern, especially if you’re worried about coronavirus and breastfeeding.
At the time of writing, we’ve sought advice from the World Health Organisation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Breastfeeding Network, and other medical resources for the most up-to-date guidance and evidence around coronavirus and breastfeeding. We will regularly check for changes in information and update this page to reflect them.
For related guidance, refer to Considerations for Inpatient Obstetric Healthcare Settings and Evaluation and Management Considerations for Neonates at Risk for COVID-19.
Can I breastfeed if I have COVID-19?
Current evidence suggests that it is safe to breastfeed and continue to offer breastmilk if you contract COVID-19. Under the guidance of the WHO, mothers should be counseled that “The long-term, well-established benefits of breastfeeding are highly likely to outweigh any potential risks of transmission of the virus through breastmilk.”
According to Dr. Wendy Oddy of the Menzies Institute for Medical Health, as well as breastmilk's nutritional advantages, “it protects against infections through specific and non-specific immune factors and has long-term consequences for metabolism and disease later in life.” In other words, breastmilk is a proven source of protection against many illnesses, and the limited data available suggests that it is not likely that COVID-19 can be transmitted via breastmilk.
Ultimately, whether and how to start (or continue) breastfeeding should be determined by the mother, alongside her family and healthcare providers. But any mother with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should take every possible precaution to avoid spreading the virus to her infant.
Protecting yourself and others
One of the most basic (and important) precautions you should take includes washing your hands with soap and water often and before touching your baby, sterilizing any breast pump or bottles, and washing your hands after changing their diaper.
It is also worth considering wearing a face-covering or a fluid-resistant face mask while feeding or caring for your baby, but infants should not wear a face covering as they may risk suffocation.
If you’re too unwell to breastfeed, you may still be able to express milk for your baby using a manual or electric breast pump, but all pumping equipment and bottles need to be sterilized through microwave, steam, or cold water methods.
Consider buying a digital thermometer, preferably separate ones for you and your baby. If you live in a rural area, you should also consider getting an oximeter, as you might not be able to get one in a hurry.
If you’re considering informal milk sharing, resources from UKAMB suggest that it’s not recommended – particularly while COVID-19 is such a concern. Although the virus has not been detected in breastmilk, it can stay on the surface of containers and can be passed through close contact, even if the person isn’t showing any symptoms.
Breastfeeding support during the pandemic
Breastfeeding support – both paid and voluntary – are skilled and invaluable in offering breastfeeding support over the phone and online. In the UK alone, there are several helplines available as well as online support groups:
- National Breastfeeding Helpline (run by the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers and the Breastfeeding Network) – 0300 100 0212 Open 9.30 am-9.30 pm, every day of the year.
- La Leche League has a coronavirus guide, offers local support, and frequently updates its Breastfeeding Support Facebook Group.
- UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative and their statements on infant feeding during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Useful guidance from the World Health Organisation, which includes information on the effects of coronavirus on children, guides for pregnant women, and reports for breastfeeding mothers.