On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increase in the total number of pregnant women in the United States who have contracted Zika, bringing the total up to 234, according to The New York Times. With a larger number of women affected, mothers' interest in Zika is spiking, leading to questions about how the virus might affect them and their children — even after birth. Is it safe for a mother with Zika to breastfeed her infant? Does Zika stay in breast milk for life?
Zika has definitely given pregnant mothers cause for concern. The virus, which is typically transmitted by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, doesn't affect the majority of people too adversely: most people who contract Zika are asymptomatic, and those who do develop symptoms only tend to deal with a rash, conjunctivitis, joint pain, and fever. If pregnant women contract the virus, however, their babies are at risk of developing a range of birth defects, including microcephaly, vision problems, and brain damage, according to The Washington Post. Being pregnant in an area affected by Zika is definitely a cause for concern.
However, after a healthy, Zika-free baby is born, how much should parents worry? If a mother contracts Zika post-partum, should she worry about breastfeeding, and if so, how long will Zika remain in her breast milk?
According to the CDC, there haven't been any reports of Zika transmission through breastfeeding so far — although the virus has been found in breast milk. Results remain inconclusive as to how long Zika can remain in breast milk after a mother recovers from the virus, however. A recent study published in The Lancet reported that Zika particles were detected in one mother's breast milk at least two days after her Zika symptoms disappeared. While researchers haven't nailed down the exact window of time that Zika can be detected in breast milk, mothers shouldn't worry that the virus will be found in breast milk for life: unlike AIDS, Zika typically only lives in one's body for up to seven days.
If any infants did contract Zika through breastfeeding, however, chances are it would affect them in the same way that it does most adults: either they would have no symptoms at all, or they'd get a short-lived bout of fever, rash, and joint pain. And thanks to the myriad benefits of breastfeeding, the World Health Organization definitely recommends mothers continue breastfeeding their infants despite the possible risk of Zika transmission.