There are many myths and much misinformation being circulated online surrounding the novel (new) coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Motherhood is hard enough, and now we have added stress and are confined to our homes.
Resources have been compiled below related to the importance of considering breastmilk as medicine when faced with the question of should you continue to breastfeed and the safety of breastmilk during these extraordinary times of living with the coronavirus.
Keep Mama and Baby Together
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that, “Any interruption of breastfeeding may actually increase an infant’s risk of becoming ill. It is important to continue breastfeeding. The baby who has already been exposed to the coronavirus by the mother and/or family will benefit most from continued direct breastfeeding.” Keep nursing, mama!
Breastmilk is Medicine
Breastmilk provides both immune and nutritional benefits for babies. Anti-infective properties in the milk are uniquely valuable for an infant.
The act of breastfeeding releases oxytocin and provides a reduction in stress and a feeling of calm for the mother, a feeling we need now more than ever!
Breast Pumping is Breastfeeding
Whether you are pumping and offering occasional bottles or you are an exclusive pumper, you are a breastfeeding mama. If you are pumping breastmilk for your child, be sure you are washing your hands before and after pumping and be sure to follow the CDC guidelines on breast pump cleaning. Keep up the good work!
All over the world, milk banks are now preparing for an increased demand for human donor milk as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) states on their website, “We are closely monitoring the evolving situation regarding the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. As always, HMBANA remains dedicated to providing safe donor human milk to infants in need. Screening criteria for milk donors are rigorous, and designed to protect the incoming milk supply.”
The full statement on milk banking and COVID-19 can be found here.
Become a Milk Donor
Interested in donating your milk to our most medically fragile infants in need? Connect with a milk bank and get screened as a donor by visiting the HMBANA site. Healthy mamas are encouraged to donate breastmilk.
Peer to Peer Milk Sharing
Many mamas participate in informal breastmilk sharing with family, friends, and even strangers. A quality screening resource can be found through the commerce-free site, Eats on Feets, with their document titled the Four Pillars of Safe Breastmilk Sharing. They have updated their homepage related to COVID-19.
If you have concerns that you are not making enough milk for your baby, or you need support in your breastfeeding journey, be sure to connect with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Many IBCLCs around the world are now offering telehealth, and you can connect with them on a secure video conferencing platform. Find available IBCLCs here.
If you are marginalized, underserved, underinsured, have no insurance, or have no primary healthcare provider and are in need of support, be sure to contact your local public health department to discuss your options for community health clinics. Many IBCLCs also offer sliding fees and pro bono appointments.
Disruptions to Breastfeeding
La Leche League International’s recent statement on continuing to nurse through COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses reminds us that disruption of breastfeeding may lead to several issues:
- significant emotional trauma for the nursing baby or toddler
- a drop in milk supply due to the need to express milk
- later breast refusal by the infant due to the introduction of bottles
- a decrease in protective immune factors due to lack of direct breastfeeding and expressed milk not matching the infant’s needs at a particular time
- an increased risk of the infant becoming ill due to lack of immune support from direct breastfeeding
Infant Feeding in Emergencies
Continued direct breastfeeding from the birthing parent is the optimal choice. If that is not available, the WHO recommends offering “expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human-milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute fed with a cup, which is a safer method than a feeding bottle and teat,” but that the best choice depends on individual circumstances.
Unfortunately, there are widespread reports of people hoarding infant formula. This practice will put babies at risk. If you learn of anyone attempting to sell formula online and price gouge, please report them on the website and with the Better Business Bureau. Reports can also be made with your State Attorney General’s office. Best practices are to prepare artificial infant milk using the guidelines of the World Health Organization.
Fill Up Your Cup, Mama
As mothers, we are already under tremendous amounts of mental load, stress, and anxiety. We must always remember to protect our own mental health, but especially in these extraordinary times.
Tips for staying sane:
- Limit screen time, particularly at night
- Beware of fear-inducing articles
- Rely on trusted news sources
- Rest because quality sleep is vital
- Hydrate with water and go easy on alcohol
- Fuel your body with nutritious foods
- Move your body each day
- Get outside
- Connect with a loved one daily via phone or video
- Let go of your expectations of what was “normal”
There are many unknowns right now and that feels scary. Maria Van Kerkhove, the Covid-19 technical lead at the World Health Organization, said in a press conference on March 16. “We can’t say universally that it’s mild in children, so it’s important that we protect children as a vulnerable population.”
Symptoms of COVID-19
- Shortness of Breath
If you are experiencing these symptoms, consult your healthcare provider.
Women with COVID-19 can breastfeed if they wish to do so. The World Health Organization recommends that they practice respiratory hygiene and wear a mask, wash hands before and after touching the baby, and routinely clean and disinfect surfaces.
Be sure to stay up-to-date with these credible resources:
- World Health Organization: Pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding Q & A
- Centers for Disease Control: Pregnancy and Breastfeeding info & Considerations for Inpatient Obstetric Healthcare Settings (updated April 4, 2020)
- UNICEF: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)- What parents should know
- Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine: Statement on Coronavirus 2019 (COVID19)
- United States Breastfeeding Committee: Key Facts about Breastfeeding and Emergencies
- European Institute of Perinatal Mental Health: Keeping COVID19 positive mother and their newborns together
All we can do as mothers is take this day by day and do what we can with the information we have. Mama, you are doing an amazing job. Give yourself lots of grace and know that we will come out of this stronger as a global community.
*This article was written based on the information available on 03/22/2020 and edited on 04/08/20 with updated information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) with updates from 04/04/20.. The COVID-19 pandemic information is rapidly changing each day. Be sure to check with credible sources daily to find out the most up-to-date information.
The author of this blog post, Bonnie Holt Logsdon, RD, IBCLC, of The Baby’s Voice, LLC, does not provide medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Information provided here should not be used as a replacement for assessment or treatment from your healthcare provider. Content is provided for general consumer understanding and as a resource. All medical questions or concerns should be discussed with your primary care provider.
To schedule a virtual visit with Bonnie email email@example.com