Updated November 23, 2020
You’ve probably heard that breast milk is the best food for your baby. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may make you wonder if it will be safe to breastfeed your baby. Here are some things to consider when making this important decision.
Is it safe to breastfeed my baby during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Breast milk is the best food for your baby during the first year of life and it helps protect your baby against many illnesses. It also helps protect babies from infections, including infections of the ears, lungs and digestive system. We don’t know for sure if moms with COVID-19 can spread the virus to babies through breast milk, but the current research says that it isn’t likely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Experts think that the infection spreads mainly through small liquid droplets from the nose or mouth when someone who is infected coughs, sneezes or talks. This means that if you have COVID-19 you need to take extra precautions to avoid passing it to your baby.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that if you have COVID-19, you may pump your milk and a healthy caregiver can feed your breast milk to your baby. If your baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), breast milk is still the best food, but the way you feed your baby in the NICU depends on your baby’s medical condition.
Talk to your health care provider about your wishes and concerns.
If I have been diagnosed with COVID-19, how can I protect my baby while breastfeeding?
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.
- Keep your newborn more than 6 feet away from you as much as possible.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before holding or feeding your baby. Alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is OK if you don’t have soap and water. Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth to prevent passing the virus when touching your baby.
- Wear a facemask or face covering when you are within 6 feet of your baby to cover any droplets from the nose or mouth while breastfeeding and handling pumps or bottle parts. Do not put a mask or face covering on your baby.
- Clean your breast before feeding your baby.
- Use clean hands to handle your breast pump and bottle parts before and after use. Do not share your breast pump.
- 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, including wearing a mask.
Your health care provider may place a physical barrier between you and your baby while you are in the hospital. He or she also may recommend that you remain separate from your baby at home and in the hospital, except for breastfeeding time. Or she may suggest that you pump your breast milk and have a healthy caregiver feed it to your baby.
Can stress about COVID-19 affect my breast milk supply?
As you breastfeed or pump your breast milk, your body learns to produce exactly the right amount of breast milk for your baby. But stress around life events like COVID-19 can temporarily interfere with your milk supply. Don’t get discouraged; breastfeeding and pumping can release hormones that help relieve some of the stress and anxiety that you are feeling. Breastfeeding is good for you too!
Take some time for yourself daily and exercise to relieve stress. You may also be able to build up your milk supply by:
- Getting rest. Your body produces more milk when it’s rested.
- Eating healthy foods and drinking a lot of fluids, like water, juice or milk. When you breastfeed, your body loses fluid. It’s important that you replace that fluid through what you drink.
- Using a breast pump after or between feedings. When you pump your breasts often, they make more breast milk.
- Pumping your breasts until they are empty each time you pump.
- Doing kangaroo care (also called skin-to-skin care). This is when you put your baby, dressed only in a diaper, on your bare chest.
Should I feed my baby something other than breast milk?
Breast milk is still the best food for your baby, but sometimes illnesses like COVID-19 make it difficult to breastfeed or pump full time. It is important that you don’t get discouraged. There are other options to consider, such as formula or pasteurized donor milk.
Formula is a milk product you can feed your baby instead of breast milk. Donor breast milk is breast milk that’s been donated to a milk bank. A milk bank receives and stores donated breast milk, tests it to make sure it’s safe and sends it to families of babies who need it. Donor breast milk has all the benefits of your own breast milk. Sometimes babies get both donor breast milk and formula. It is still important to practice proper hygiene steps when preparing formula or donor breast milk for your baby.
There is a lot to consider when deciding how to feed your baby during the COVID-19 pandemic. Talk to your provider and your family and choose what is best for you and your baby.