COVID-19 information for breastfeeding mums

A mother will do whatever it takes to keep her precious baby safe and healthy, so any worries may be exacerbated in a time of crisis like this. One thing you may be concerned about is if you should continue breastfeeding your baby. If you have the virus, will you be separated from your baby? Is it safe to breastfeed, since you may not even know you have COVID-19? Is your baby more at risk of contracting it? What if you’re too sick to breastfeed?

One extremely important thing for you to keep in mind is that breastfeeding can help protect babies from getting sick, and is particularly effective against infectious diseases. This is because breast milk contains antibodies and other immune protective factors.

Here we’ll provide the most up-to-date COVID-19 information for breastfeeding mums:

If I have COVID-19 and give birth, will I be separated from my baby in the hospital, and unable to breastfeed?

Even if your baby is free of COVID-19, you and your baby will not be separated. Your baby is at risk of contracting it, but since you would have been building up antibodies to fight the virus, those antibodies would have been transferred to the baby. So, it’s hoped the baby will have a degree of natural protection against the virus. You will need to take extra precautions when caring for your baby. Frequent handwashing, potentially wearing a mask, and practicing good hygiene.

Are newborns more at risk of getting coronavirus than others?

Newborns are vulnerable in that they don’t have a good immune system, but antibodies from their mother would have been transferred to them. If you choose to or can breastfeed, it’s recommended that you do so to further protect your baby’s immune system.

What if my baby contracts COVID-19 during the hospital stay?

From the evidence around the world, babies and young children are affected only mildly or moderately. Your baby would be carefully and closely monitored in the hospital, and most likely will stay with you in the room.

Can I still breastfeed my baby if I have coronavirus?

Breastfeeding is a choice only a mother and her family can make, however UNICEF, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, WHO, and CDC, state that if a mother with coronavirus and her baby are able to remain together, breastfeeding at the breast is encouraged.

If you’ve tested positive for the virus, you can continue to breastfeed while wearing a mask, or you may be advised to express milk so that someone uninfected can feed your baby until you’re no longer contagious. This will be decided by your healthcare team. Ensure that you wash your hands well before and after feeds and pumping sessions.

Can COVID-19 be transmitted via breast milk?

Breastfeeding is a vital source of immune protection for babies, and the current evidence shows that the virus isn’t transmitted through breast milk.

Considering the risk that I could contract COVID-19, isn’t it safer to give my baby formula?

According to UNICEF, breastfeeding is the safest, most reliable method of infant feeding in an emergency. Considering the benefits of breastfeeding plus the current evidence that breast milk has not been shown in the transmission of respiratory viruses, you can continue breastfeeding.

What if I’m too sick to breastfeed, or have been separated from my baby?

One option is to express as regularly as you can so that your baby continues to receive breast milk. If your supply drops, which is common when mothers are unwell, you can seek help from a lactation consultant or medical advisor.

Donated breast milk is another option. You can call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to discuss this further with a maternal and child health nurse.

Can I restart breastfeeding if I had to stop for a period of time?

Nicole Jameson, who is master of international public health and a breastfeeding counsellor, advises that re-lactation is possible if you’ve stopped breastfeeding whilst unwell. Please phone the Breastfeeding Helpline for support.

If you think you or your baby have coronavirus

You can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse.

For general information on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), call the Australian Government’s Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.

For more support with breastfeeding

The ABA runs the National Breastfeeding Helpline 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268). The helpline is available 24/7, and is staffed by trained, volunteer counsellors.