August is National Breastfeeding Month and the last week of the month—August 25 through August 31—is Black Breastfeeding Week.
Breast milk is the best food for your baby during the first year of life and it helps protect your baby against many illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence that COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is present in breast milk. Experts think that the virus spreads mainly through small liquid droplets from the nose or mouth when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes.
Can you give coronavirus to your baby?
As of now, it’s not clear if a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can transmit the virus to her baby, but newborns can get infected with COVID-19 right after birth from someone with the virus. Recent data published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) suggest that transmission during pregnancy may be possible. As more studies get published, we will update this information as we learn more.
After birth, a newborn can be infected after being in close contact with an infected person, including the baby’s mom or other caregivers. A small number of babies have tested positive for the virus shortly after birth. However, it’s not clear if these babies got the virus before, during or after birth.
Should you breastfeed your baby if you have COVID-19?
So far, the COVID-19 virus has not been found in the breast milk of women with COVID-19. Experts think that the infection spreads mainly through small liquid droplets from the nose or mouth when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes.
If you have COVID-19 or think you do, the hospital may separate you from your baby. If you are not separated, take steps to avoid spreading the virus to your baby, including washing your hands and wearing a cloth face covering when you’re less than 6 feet from the baby. If possible, your baby should be kept at least 6 feet away from you (two arm’s lengths) if you have COVID-19.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that if you have COVID-19, you may pump your milk and have a healthy caregiver feed your breast milk to your baby. If your baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), breast milk is still the best food, but the way you feed your baby in the NICU depends on her medical condition.
Being apart from your baby may make it harder to start or continue breastfeeding. If you can’t breastfeed due to separation, you can use your hands or a breast pump to start and build your milk supply during temporary separation. Pumping every 2 to 3 hours, even at night, during the first few days after your baby is born tells your breasts to produce milk and prevents blocked milk ducts and breast infections. If you’re not able to make milk while in the hospital after giving birth or if you must temporarily stop breastfeeding, a lactation support provider can help you.
If you have COVID-19 and want to breastfeed directly, you need to:
- Use a mask or cloth face covering to cover your face and nose
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before each feeding
- Use a dedicated breast pump (not shared with other people), if you choose to pump
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before touching any pump or bottle parts
- Properly clean the breast pump after use, if you use one
Breast milk is the best food for your baby during the first year of life. Ask your health care provider how to safely breastfeed your baby if you think you have coronavirus.