UNICEF estimates that at least 116 million babies will be born during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and many of those new mothers may be concerned about whether they can breastfeed if they contract the virus. State health officials along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say it’s safe, as long as they take proper precautions.
“Women with COVID-19 can breastfeed if they wish to do so,” says Jarene Fleming, IBCLC RLC, State Breastfeeding Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Health. “They just need to follow CDC guidelines and wear a mask while feeding, wash hands before and after touching the baby and wash hands before touching pump or bottle parts.” Ms. Fleming was a guest speaker at the first meeting for the Hampton Roads Breastfeeding Education and Advocacy Team (HR-BEAT) in October. HR-BEAT is funded through a grant by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth. Under the Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH), based at EVMS, HR-BEAT’s initiatives will seek to normalize breastfeeding, reduce disparities in breastfeeding rates and promote equitable access to breastfeeding resources and information in Hampton Roads.
Some mothers may prefer not to feed at the breast or may be too unwell to do so. In those situations, the CDC recommends they express their milk to be fed by bottle or use donor milk from a milk bank like the King’s Daughters Milk Bank at CHKD.
"Breastfeeding in a pandemic is important because human milk protects babies from many acute and chronic conditions,” Ms. Fleming says. “Ensuring that newborns receive their mother's own milk will help them to have better health now and in the future after the pandemic has passed.”