The novel coronavirus has so far not been detected in breast milk, meaning moms who test positive for COVID-19 can safely breastfeed with precautions, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced late last week. While more research is certainly warranted, the WHO has recommended mothers suspected or confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 breastfeed as the benefits of breastmilk outweigh the risk of transmission.
"Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for infants, including infants whose mothers have confirmed or suspected coronavirus infection," the WHO said in a recently published position paper. "As long as an infected mother takes appropriate precautions ... she can breastfeed her baby."
In fact, the WHO noted that breastmilk provides babies with a number of health and development benefits, including things that can help ward off respiratory diseases like COVID-19. "Breastmilk contains antibodies and other immunological benefits that can help protect against respiratory diseases," the WHO noted. "A growing body of evidence supports the importance of breastfeeding for a child's growth, development, and health, as well as for helping them avoid obesity and noncommunicable diseases later in life."
In its position paper, the WHO noted that studies centered around samples of breastmilk obtained from patients confirmed to have COVID-19 had not found evidence of the virus in any sample. Instead, researchers and health officials believe the main risk of coronavirus transmission for babies appears to come from the respiratory tract on an infected mother.
As a result, the WHO has rolled out new guidance stating that women confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 can breastfed if they want to but should take precautions while doing so to limit the spread of respiratory droplets. These precautions include:
- Wearing a mask over your mouth and nose while breastfeeding,
- Thoroughly your washing hands with both soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after touching the baby
- Routinely clean and disinfect any surfaces you have touched, especially those your child is likely to come into contact with
These precautions are similar to those the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended for mothers breastfeeding while experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
As part of its guidance, the WHO reiterated its long-standing recommendation that mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of their child's life. "Close contact with the mother and early, exclusive breastfeeding are both things that help babies thrive," the WHO said. "So even if a mother has COVID-19, she is encouraged to touch and hold her baby, breastfeed safely with good respiratory hygiene, hold the baby skin-to-skin, and share a room with the child."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.