Breast milk is the 1st vaccine for your child. Available data shows vertical transmission of the virus is not possible through breast milk. However a positive mother can transmit the virus through respiratory droplets to her baby. Benefits of breastfeeding are reduced if it is not kept exclusive.
Addition of even a single feed of animal or milk powder, and any other food or also water decreases milk secretion and increases chances of infection.
Risk of Covid19 in infant and young children:
Most of the children with COVID19 infection present as asymptotic or present with mild symptoms. Severity is very minimal when compared to other infections like diarrhoea, respiratory infections etc.
The benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks of infection. Initiate within the first hour when possible. Early initiation helps in transfer of protective antibodies and boosts the child’s immunity.
Updated WHO guidelines:
- Infants born to mothers with suspected, probable or confirmed COVID19 infection should be fed according to the standard IYCF (Infant & Young Child Feeding) guidelines while applying necessary precautions for IPC ( Infection Prevention and Control).
- In case the mother is sick and unable to breastfeed, her expressed milk should be given to the infant with a clean cup.
- In a situation where the mother is unable to breastfeed, re-lactation (resuming feeding when better), wet nursing (taking the aid of another lactating woman), donor human milk (milk banks) or appropriate breast milk substitutes should be used. Precautions should be taken to avoid promotion of breast milk substitutes and feeding bottles by health facility and health care providers.
- Rooming-in (allowing the mother and child to be in the same vicinity unless either the child/mother need to be separated eg., ICU admission) should be practised throughout the day, whether her mother and infant have suspected or confirmed COVID 19 infection.
- Hospitals/health-care facilities should provide breastfeeding counselling, basic psychosocial support, practical feeding support to manage common breastfeeding difficulty including IPC measures to all pregnant women and mothers with infants and young children, whether they or their infants have suspected Covid19 infection.
- Mothers who are breastfeeding should practice respiratory hygiene, which includes wearing a mask, washing hands before handling the baby and routinely clean all the infecting surfaces which they have touched. Practise the 3 W’s: Wash, Wear, Wipe. THE BABY SHALL NOT WEAR A MASK.
- Practising skin to skin contact after birth is recommended: This helps in keeping the baby warm, reduces stress levels for both mother and baby and translates into successful lactation. The chest area ends to be washed if the mother has sneezed or coughed. Cleaning is not needed at every feed.
Lastly, if formula milk has to be used, observe safe and hygienic practices. Resume breastfeeding as soon as possible.
Shweta Bhatia, Registered Dieteitan, Mind Your Fitness!