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Should a mother with COVID-19 symptoms breastfeed her baby?

April 05, 2020
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For many mothers, breastfeeding is one of the most special moments after giving birth. But if a new mom is sick with COVID-19 or showing symptoms of the virus, certain measures should be taken to ensure that the newborn is not infected.

Is COVID-19 spread through breast milk?

While breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most babies, we do not know whether mothers with COVID-19 can transmit the virus via breast milk.

In limited studies on women with COVID-19 and another coronavirus infection, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), the virus was not detected in breast milk.

Experts recommend being cautious, though. Even if the virus cannot be transmitted via breast milk, it may still be transmitted to the baby during close exposure, like breastfeeding, due to mothers coughing or sneezing.

Should mothers breastfeed if they have symptoms?

Whether to start breastfeeding or continue breastfeeding should be determined by the mother in coordination with her family and healthcare providers.

If you are a new mother with COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms and would like to breastfeed, here are steps to take to ensure the safety of your newborn:

Breastfeeding while in the hospital

When feeding at the breast, the mother should:

  • Wash breasts thoroughly with mild soap and water and dry with a clean towel
  • Wash her hands before touching the infant
  • Wear a face mask, if possible, while feeding at the breast. If a disposable face mask is not available, cover mouth and nose with cloth bandana or handkerchief (use once and launder) or make a disposable mask with a folded paper towel, with rubber bands fastened on as ear loops. Dispose after each use.

Once fed, return the infant to their crib, remove mask (if used), and wash hands.

To pump breast milk in the hospital, the mother should:

  • Wash breasts thoroughly with mild soap and water and dry with a clean towel
  • Wash hands before touching any pump or bottle parts
  • Pump breasts and label milk

After pumping, ask your nurse to wipe down your used pump with a Super Sani Cloth and call staff to retrieve expressed milk. Then have someone who is feeling well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant.

Breastfeeding at home

When feeding at the breast, the mother should:

  • Wash breasts thoroughly with mild soap and water and dry with a clean towel
  • Wash her hands before touching the infant
  • Wear a face mask, if possible, while feeding at the breast. If a disposable face mask is not available, cover mouth and nose with cloth bandana or handkerchief (use once and launder) or make a disposable mask with a folded paper towel, with rubber bands fastened on as ear loops. Dispose after each use.

Once fed, return the infant to their crib, remove mask (if used), and wash hands.

To pump breast milk at home, the mother should:

  • Wash breasts thoroughly with mild soap and water and dry with a clean towel
  • Wash hands before touching any pump or bottle parts
  • Pump breasts and label milk

After pumping, pour expressed milk into clean bottles. The mother is advised not to touch the surface of clean bottles, if possible. If someone else is in the household and feeling well, have them handle bottles. Then clean the pump and pump parts with soap and water and have someone who is feeling well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant.

When is it safe to stop these special precautions?

Talk with your doctor or midwives about how long to take precautions or remain separated from your baby. Your provider will help you make the decision by discussing your case with other clinicians, infection prevention and control specialists, and public health officials.

New mothers with COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 may bypass these extra steps once:

  • Their fever has gone away, without use of fever reducing medication
  • Their illness signs and symptoms have improved
  • They have had two negative COVID-19 laboratory test swabs

Questions?

Contact your obstetrician, midwife, or birthing nurse for further guidance on proper breastfeeding procedures during suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – COVID-19