COVID-19, the NICU and your baby

April 30, 2020

Hospitals and healthcare staff are taking safety measures to prevent the spreading of COVID-19. Even after parents and hospitals, take all the possible precautions there have been cases of COVID-19 in babies. At this moment, experts don’t know if babies born prematurely are at a higher risk of getting COVID-19 than other children.

Babies diagnosed with COVID-19 will likely be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) for additional tests and treatment. They may need supportive oxygen treatments. The oxygen can be delivered in different ways, depending on your baby’s medical condition.  If needed, a mechanical ventilator can be used to help him breathe.

How can you protect your baby from COVID-19 in the NICU?

Washing your hands is the best way to protect you and your baby from infection. If you visit your baby in the NICU, be sure to wash your hands carefully. Many hospitals recommend that you:

  • Consider keeping your nails short and natural while your baby is in the NICU. Fake nails, long nails or nails with chipped polish carry more germs than short, natural nails
  • Take off your jacket or coat and hang it on the coat rack or hooks near the scrub sinks
  • Roll up your sleeves to above your elbows
  • Take off any watches, rings, and jewelry and store them safely
  • Use germ-fighting soap to wash from your fingertips to your elbows for 3 minutes. Pay special attention to the area around and under your fingernails
  • Dry your hands well with paper towels after washing
  • Avoid placing anything over your clean arms after washing. If you carry your or your baby’s items to your baby’s space, be sure to wash your hands again before touching your baby. A 15-second wash with soap is enough
  • Wash your hands again after touching your face or eyes or after changing your baby’s diaper

Can you visit your baby in the NICU if he has COVID-19?

Many hospitals are limiting the number of family members allowed in the NICU at this time. Visitation may be limited to parents, guardians or partners. You may only be allowed to have one person visit your baby while he is in the NICU. Some hospitals are limiting visitors to be the same person during the entire time that he is in the NICU. Other hospitals are allowing parents to trade off their presence on a specified schedule, such as every 12 or 24 hours. Check with your hospital to find out exactly what parent and family presence guidelines are in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What if you are diagnosed with COVID-19?

Parents with COVID-19 should follow CDC guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19. These guidelines state that someone diagnosed with COVID-19 should not visit babies in the NICU until:

  • Fever is resolved for at least 3 days (72 hours) without taking fever-reducing medicine like Tylenol
  • Cough has improved
  • Two COVID-19 tests confirmed negative results at least 24 hours apart

Your hospital may have further policies and procedures to follow. Check with your hospital to find out exactly what parent presence guidelines are in place for parents who are diagnosed with COVID-19.

Should you breastfeed your premature baby if you think you have COVID-19?

Experts believe that the infection spreads mainly through small liquid droplets from the nose or mouth when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. So far, the COVID-19 virus has not been found in the breast milk of women with COVID-19.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says, if you have COVID-19 you may express your milk. A healthy caregiver can feed your breast milk to your baby.

There are a few simple hygiene tips to help protect your baby from COVID-19  while you breastfeed her directly or from a bottle with pumped breast milk.

  • Wash your hands before feeding your baby. Use soap and water if possible. Alcohol-based sanitizer is OK if you don’t have soap and water.
  • Clean your breast prior to feeding.
  • Wear a facemask or face covering to cover any droplets from the nose or mouth while breastfeeding and handling pumps or bottle parts.
  • Use clean hands to handle your breast pump and bottle parts before and after use.
  • Ask for help at home or in the hospital.
    • Pump your breast milk and have someone who is not sick feed your baby.
    • Make sure the healthy caregiver feeding your baby also follows hygiene tips.