Breastfeeding In Times of Covid: Can I Do It?

Being a mother that chooses to breastfeed in this modern-day and age is challenging, especially during a pandemic.


Making sure you’re following all the right steps and being up to date with all these new recommendations can be stressful, it’s only natural to worry about your baby’s health.


But don't worry we’re here to break it down and give you the facts, so let's take a look at pregnancy and breastfeeding in the context of Covid-19.

Mirna Elsabbagh, Adult & Child Nutritionist - Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition

alt text: a newborn baby being prepped for breastfeeding


What happens to your baby when you get Covid-19 while pregnant?

When compared to non-pregnant people, mothers on-the-way have a higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19. However, there’s no need to panic: your baby will likely not be infected if you are. According to recent data, only 2.6% of newborns were infected with Covid-19 when their mothers were identified as carriers of the virus a week before delivery. 


However, even if your baby tests positive for Covid-19 after birth, the CDC has assured that almost all the recorded cases had mild or no symptoms and have recovered well. 


Mirna Elsabbagh, Adult & Child Nutritionist - Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition

What about breastfeeding while having Covid-19?

Breastfeeding is highly important especially in the first 6 months after your baby's arrival since it helps lower the risk for respiratory tract infections, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease, according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.


During Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that mothers who suspect having Covid-19 should still breastfeed if they feel well enough to do so. The reason is that when a mom gets Covid-19 as she lactates, her body starts producing immune factors (antibodies) that are found in her milk to help protect the baby. 


This helps the baby's immune system fight the disease if they ever get infected with Covid-19. 


Can I get vaccinated while pregnant or breastfeeding?

Preliminary studies and clinical trials by the CDC have shown that it is acceptable to take the Covid-19 vaccine while pregnant, as it is unlikely to pose any risk to pregnant women. However, these are not final recommendations as there is currently limited data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines to pregnant people, and more data is yet to be released.


What does ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) have to say about that: “ACOG recommends that pregnant individuals have access to COVID-19 vaccines.”


As for lactating women, there is no sufficient data present on the effects of the vaccine on breastfeeding moms or their babies. However, WHO declares that since the vaccine has no live viruses for all vaccines, there is absolutely no risk of vaccinated moms infecting their breastfed babies. Instead, it could serve in transferring antibodies to the baby through the mom’s milk.

Here are what the officials say about vaccination:

  • The WHO says there is no risk at all for pregnant women when it comes to getting vaccinated.
  • The CDC states that pregnant and lactating women are encouraged to go get vaccinated.
  • The ACOG reassures you to trust the science behind vaccines and that it’ll protect you from severe illness if you get infected. 

Find below quote directly from WHO by  Dr Soumya Swaminathan:


“So, women who have given birth and who are breastfeeding their babies can take the vaccine, should take the vaccine when it becomes available to them. There is no risk at all because all the vaccines that are being used presently, none of them have the live virus in it. And so there's no risk of transmission through the breast milk. In fact, the antibodies that the mother has can go through the breast milk to the baby and may only serve maybe to protect the baby a little bit. But there's absolutely no harm. It's very safe. And so women who are breastfeeding can definitely take the vaccines that are currently available.”


What does ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) have to say about that: ACOG recommends “COVID-19 vaccines should be offered to lactating individuals similar to non-lactating individuals.”


Consequently, if you're pregnant or lactating, it is recommended to have a conversation with your healthcare provider since the science is not conclusive yet.

 

What are the general hygiene rules that moms should follow?

UNICEF advises pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to:

  • Wear a mask while feeding if they are infected with COVID19.
  • Wash their hands with soap before and after touching the baby.
  • Wipe and disinfect surfaces regularly.

The CDC also recommends washing your hands with soap and water for twenty seconds before breastfeeding or pumping milk, even when you don't have Covid-19. 


And always remember, you should be the one wearing a mask, children younger than two years old should NEVER wear a mask.


Mirna Elsabbagh, Adult & Child Nutritionist - Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition



I hope this was helpful!

Important notice: this article was reviewed on the 13th of July 2021. Please make sure to be updated with your local health authorities and pediatrician for any new information about Covid-19 and pregnancy. This is purely for educational purposes and not meant to be taken as strict medical advice. We recommend you check in with your health care professional or doctor before taking any medical action.



Mirna Sabbagh, an adult and child dietitian, nutritionist, and lactation consultant. She also has several digital courses: Pregnancy Nutrition Course, breastfeeding course,  starting solids 6-12 months course, and also child nutrition for all children including picky eater, that you can sign up for from the comfort of your home.
The courses are pre-recorded. As soon as you make the course purchase, you will receive a link to watch the course from your phone or laptop.
You can also e-mail Mirna for questions at info@mirnaelsabbagh.com

Mirna is no longer doing consultations. Her online courses and webinars cover 95% of parents' common concerns. 






References:

https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/bfm.2011.9996

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827

https://www.unicef.org/eap/breastfeeding-during-covid-19

https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/breastfeeding-and-covid-19

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fprepare%2Fpregnancy-breastfeeding.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/pregnant-people.html

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