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The COVID-19 outbreak is a stressful time for everyone, particularly breastfeeding mothers who have not just their health to worry about, but their baby’s as well. Breastfeeding is known to have several benefits for babies, and in many instances has even proven to be lifesaving. However, what happens when a mother is declared COVID positive? Does she have to be separated from her baby? Can she still breastfeed? How big is the risk of transmitting the virus to the infant? These are just a few of the many stress-inducing questions that float around the family’s head. But the reality is far from these myths and misconceptions. The coronavirus may be highly infectious, but not enough to separate a mother from her child. Here’s what you should know about breastfeeding your baby with COVID-19!
We, at FirstCry Parenting, along with BSIM (Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers), a peer to peer support group, for breastfeeding women, on Facebook, bring you stories from COVID-19 positive women who broke stereotypes and shied away from norms, making the best choice for themselves and their babies. With inputs from a renowned lactation consultant, Shyamala Sathiaseelan, let’s look at the what’s, why’s, and how’s of breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is It Safe for COVID- Positive Women to Breastfeed Their Child?
Breastmilk is a powerhouse of nutrients for the baby, but you’re probably wondering if there’s a risk of transmitting the virus through breastmilk. The answer is no. When asked about the safety of breastfeeding at this time, Shyamala Sathiaseelan strongly mentions, ‘It is perfectly safe to breastfeed your child if you have COVID-19, as long as you maintain proper hygiene and wear a mask.’ The benefits of breastmilk far outweigh the risk of transmission which can be further curbed by simply taking proper measures. Since the virus has not been found in breastmilk, babies can safely consume breastmilk and mothers can rest assured that proper feeding is strengthening their infant’s immunity and ensuring growth even in these harsh times.
Ruchi R Chand, a mother to 3-month-old twins took to the BSIM platform to share her experience. Though the entire family, including herself, tested positive for the virus, one baby did not. She continued to breastfeed her babies and, miraculously, the second twin who also suffers from a congenital heart defect recovered in the first report itself. ‘This is the power of breastmilk’ she says, which rings true, especially in these times.
Though we have established that breastmilk does not contain the virus, there’s also the fear of paracetamols and medication given to a COVID- positive mother affecting the child by entering breastmilk. ‘Most doctors know to give breastfeeding-safe medication, and provide alternate medicines.’ says Shyamala Sathiaseelan. So, make sure you let your doctor know that you would like to continue breastfeeding your child, and all will be well.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding With COVID-19
There is much talk about why mothers should pause breastfeeding while recovering, lest they transmit the virus to their baby. However, doctors actually encourage mothers to breastfeed their baby.
Nikita Wable, BSIM member and mother to a 5-month-old baby girl, found that her entire family tested positive despite having taken all the necessary precautions, and more. Though she initially panicked, worrying about her daughter, her paediatrician assured her that breastfeeding would help her baby recover sooner. ‘I was symptomatic and had lost sense of smell and taste. I was nauseous and weak, and was yet advised to continue breastfeeding, as my body was generating antibodies to fight the virus, and they’d be passed on to my baby.’ Despite the virus taking a toll on her health, she used gloves, wore a mask and breastfed her baby, making sure she got the best of nutrition.
Another option that COVID- positive mothers can look into is pumping milk, which can be then fed to the baby by a non-affected family member. This is viable if you are extremely concerned about transmitting the virus to your baby. However, Shyamala Sathiaseelan stresses the importance of directly breastfeeding, as latching has benefits for both the mother and baby and also helps provide an adequate milk supply.
Tips to Breastfeed With COVID-19
Though the COVID-19 virus cannot be spread through breastmilk, it is important to take the necessary precautions to ensure that your baby remains safe and healthy! Here are some insider tips to keep in mind!
1. Wear a Mask at All Times
Whenever you feed your baby or are even around your baby, wear a mask to ensure you don’t pass on the virus to your little one. You can even invest in disposable masks to take that extra-cautious step. Nivedita Karthik, a healthcare worker with a 2-year-old daughter, tested positive for the coronavirus during a routine checkup conducted at her workplace. She was asymptomatic and chose to self-quarantine at home, taking precautions to ensure that her family did not get infected. ‘As usual, I looked up to BSIM for providing all the required info. I knew I would do more good than harm’, she says. She wore a mask during every feed, making sure her little one stayed free from harm!
2. Isolate During the Day
Though the separation of mother and child is not suggested, you can choose to smartly bend the rules. If you have family members who are close to the child and not affected by the virus, hand over babysitting duties to them, while you take rest and recover. On asking Nivedita Karthik if her baby noticed any difference, she says, ‘My baby was outside the room with my family members. Though she knew something was different, she was okay because she knew I was still around.’ Nivedita also added that her baby slept next to her during the night due to night-feedings, but with the proper hygiene, the virus remained contained and she was able to build her baby’s immunity through breastfeeding.
3. Maintain Proper Hygiene (Even in Your Surroundings)
Using a hand sanitiser, regularly washing your hands and wearing a mask is second nature to us now. But what is even more important is disinfecting any surfaces around you. Regularly clean anything you touch, more so if your baby is nearby. Whether it’s a bedpost, your phone, sheets, towels etc., everything should be cleaned and sanitised regularly to prevent infection. Especially, your mask!
4. Observe Milk Supply
It may be hard to keep up milk supply if you are too weak and your body is battling the infection. Check for signs of your milk supply going down. Directly breastfeeding can release enzymes that promote milk production, but if you still have a hard time with breastfeeding your child, consult a lactation consultant who can advise you on what to do!
Breastmilk is a powerhouse of nutrients for babies and helps build immunity, which is crucial during this time. Reading about success stories of super-moms breastfeeding their babies despite being infected is inspiring and shows that you don’t have to be separated from your child. So, get in touch with your doctor, and stay healthy and happy!