Can you breastfeed if you have Covid-19?

We’ve had an overload of fake news over the past pandemic months. One of the most damaging falsehoods to emerge has been that COVID-19 positive moms can transmit the virus through breastmilk to their little ones, and should stop breastfeeding.

Spokesperson for ADSA (The Association for Dietetics in South Africa), Andiswa Ngqaka, a registered dietitian says, “There are anecdotes from various countries indicating that this misinformation is causing moms to avoid breastfeeding during the pandemic.”

There is no evidence of COVID-19 transmission through breastmilk

As the medical profession’s foremost experts in nutrition, registered dietitians are constantly keeping up to date with the latest scientific evidence. Worldwide, there is currently no evidence that breastfed babies have been infected by mothers who have tested positive to COVID-19.

Andiswa explains, “The World Health Organisation (WHO) cites one study where there was a detection of non-infectious COVID-19 viral RNA in breastmilk, and this is definitely not the same thing as finding viable and infective virus.

Therefore, there is unanimous agreement across international health organisations that moms can have complete peace of mind breastfeeding their children through the pandemic, even if they are COVID-19 positive or suspect they might be infected. The benefits of skin-to-skin contact with your baby and breastfeeding as normal are overwhelmingly immune-boosting and protective of your baby’s health.”

Safety of breastfeeding during coronavirus
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it’s safe to breastfeed with Covid-19.

What precautions should a COVID-19 positive mom take?

The WHO provides the following breastfeeding guidelines if you suspect or know you have COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand rub and especially before touching the baby
  • Wear a medical mask during any contact with the baby, including while feeding
  • Sneeze or cough into a tissue. Then dispose of it immediately and wash hands for at least 20 seconds again
  • Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces that you have touched.

It is vital that partners, family and friends support breastfeeding moms who may be COVID-19 infected. They need to understand that there is no evidence that the virus is transmitted through breastmilk, and that by continuing breastfeeding, the mother is doing the best she can do to protect her baby from COVID-19.

What should happen if you’re just too ill to breastfeed?
Andiswa says, “If you’re too ill to breastfeed, try to express your milk for your baby and give it with a clean cup or spoon and cup. Expressing breastmilk is important to sustain your milk production so that you can carry on breastfeeding when you recover.

If you can’t express your breastmilk, you can consider donor human milk.  Wet nursing is another option if culturally acceptable to you. Your last option would be to provide a breastmilk substitute. Reunite with your baby as soon as your recover. Get support if you need help re-lactating and bonding with your baby.”

World Breastfeeding Week takes place from Saturday, 1st August to Friday, 7th August. The local 2020 campaign theme is Support breastfeeding for a healthier South Africa.  The Department of Health and its partners, including ADSA, appeal to the country to fully support and encourage breastfeeding mothers who are protecting their babies against many infections, including COVID-19.  Through breastfeeding on demand, mothers also protect their baby’s vital source of immune-boosting breastmilk and help their babies thrive through close mother-and-child contact.