Can COVID-19 Be Transmitted Through Breastfeeding?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and its sister agency, United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, have encouraged women to continue to breastfeed even if they have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection.
The UN agencies on Wednesday in a statement released via its website said that evidence indicates that it is unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding.
The bodies noted that active COVID-19 virus has not, to date, been detected in the breastmilk of any mother with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
“It appears unlikely, therefore, that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding or by giving breastmilk that has been expressed by a mother who is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19.
“Women with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 can therefore breastfeed if they wish to do so,” they stated.
The agencies lamented that breastfeeding is under threat as health systems are stretched thin.
UNICEF said babies who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times less likely to die than babies who are not breastfed.
“However, today, only 41 per cent of infants 0–6 months old are exclusively breastfed, a rate WHO Member States have committed to increasing to at least 50 per cent by 2025.
“Inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and the COVID-19 crisis is intensifying the threat,” it said.
WHO also said the pandemic is having a negative effect on the health care services aimed at supporting mothers to breastfeed, including counselling and skilled lactation.
“Infection prevention measures, such as physical distancing make it difficult for community counselling and mother-to-mother support services to continue, leaving an opening for the breast-milk substitute industry to capitalise on the crisis, and diminish confidence in breastfeeding.”
Also, WHO and UNICEF called on governments to urgently strengthen legislation on the ban of all breast milk substitutes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The agencies urged governments and civil society organizations not to seek or accept donations of breast milk substitutes in emergency situations.
Breastfeeding mothers are advised to:
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand rub and especially before touching the baby;
- Wear a medical mask during any contact with the baby, including while feeding;
- Sneeze or cough into a tissue. Then dispose of it immediately and wash hands again;
- Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces after touching them.
Even if mothers do not have a medical mask, they should follow all the other infection prevention measures listed, and continue breastfeeding.