Breastfeeding in the Time of Coronavirus

We’re living through an unusual time. Routines are different for everything, from how we consume the news to where we’re working to how many people are in our home all day — to, of course, our anxiety levels.

There are also some things that remain constant: spring is coming, our household chores need to be done, babies are being born, and those babies (and adults) need to be fed.

It’s indisputable that breastmilk provides protection against many illnesses. During this pandemic, many people are wondering what’s safe and what’s recommended in light of the new virus that has come on the scene.

One of the challenges in responding is, of course,  that COVID-19 is novel, so the research is just beginning to emerge.

At this time, and drawing on experience with other viruses, the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM), and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is to continue to initiate breastfeeding, because of the many protections conferred to both Mom and baby.

But what if mom is ill? Or has been exposed to or tests positive for COVID? At this time, limited studies show no evidence that the virus is spread through breastmilk, which is in line with previous research on the SARS virus (another coronavirus).

Because COVID-19 is spread via respiratory droplets, it’s important that if a mother has respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and runny nose that she wear a mask if possible when close to the baby, as during breastfeeding, to avoid spread. For mothers who test positive for COVID-19, the CDC and ABM recommend considering separation of mother and infant except during breastfeeding. This would be a decision made with the family and the health care professional, taking into account whether the mother needs more medical care for herself.

If a mother is expressing milk for her baby, follow good hand hygiene and proper washing and disinfecting techniques of all pump parts and bottles.

Following delivery, it’ important that families continue to get accurate and timely help on their breastfeeding journey. At our Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh, we’re taking recommended precautions to minimize the spread of infection and still provide excellent care. Please follow our Facebook page or web site to keep up-to-date on the measures we’re using.

At the time of this writing, we’re having families check in from their cars instead of waiting in the waiting room. Chairs in our breastfeeding center are covered by disposable paper, and all staff are wearing masks (and gloves when appropriate). We’re cleaning hourly and thoroughly. Sometimes, a virtual visit is an appropriate option. Please call us to talk through this option if you’re interested.

As always, even in this crazy tie, we’re here to support you and your baby on your breastfeeding journey.

Dr. Amy Maddalenais the Medical Director of our Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh.