Can COVID pass through Breastmilk? Feeding Baby in unprecedented times
The past two years have been filled with “unprecedented times” as we learn to navigate a whole new layer of living. Humans have pushed themselves further than ever before with what we have been able to mentally handle, as well as what we physically put ourselves through for the health and safety of ourselves and those we love. There is a small subset of people that have a unique concern and situation when dealing with COVID-19 and its subsequent vaccines – breastfeeding individuals.
You ask all the questions, but especially- Can I breastfeed with COVID?
The mental and physical strain of breastfeeding has existed even before any illness is introduced. Breastfeeding is hard work and people are already asking themselves all of the following questions.
“Is my baby getting enough?”
“Am I making enough milk?”
“Is the milk ‘good’ enough?”
However, now when someone tests positive for the virus, the questions quickly become;
Can I breastfeed while I have COVID?”
“Should I breastfeed while I’m sick?”
“Can COVID pass through breast milk?”
“Will I lose my milk supply?”
First and foremost, YES, you can continue to breastfeed with COVID, but you will need to include added protection factors. Additionally, there are also some other options you can explore for feeding your baby. This will help to keep everyone healthy.
Secondly, there has been no evidence that this virus or its variants can be passed through breast milk.
Taking precautions while breastfeeding
The first option to consider is breastfeeding as usual, with added protection. Whether you feed on demand or follow a schedule or routine, continue latching as you would; however, before feeding you should wash your hands, put on a mask, and even change your clothes to decrease exposure risk. A face shield is insufficient protection, and the mask you use should cover your nose and mouth. It is not necessary to use gloves.
Alternative methods for feeding Baby
The second option is to pump and provide breast milk using a bottle. This can be a great option to ensure that you are getting plenty of rest while you are ill and needing to recover. This also allows for other people who are not sick to provide care for your baby, if that is what you feel is best for your family. If you chose to give the bottle while sick, wash hands, wear a mask, and change your clothes to reduce risk of exposure. This option does require some forethought, as you will need to have some milk already in your refrigerator/freezer. It does not have to be a lot of milk, but when you get the diagnosis, you will not have to stress about feeding baby right away. This also requires maintenance while you are sick. Not feeding directly from the breast for any duration of time requires that you continue pumping on a schedule to maintain your supply, as well as continue providing milk for the baby.
It is absolutely okay to change it up
The third option is to supplement with formula during the time you are sick. If you are too sick to feed at the breast, to pump, or are hospitalized, this is the best option. Any person taking care of the baby is able to easily handle feeding times, and there is no stress on you. Some families wish to exclusively use breast milk for their baby, but the health and wellness of the parents is equally as important for the health of the baby. In times like these, formula can make a huge difference so that the entire family can get back to their regular routine as soon as possible. If you need to use formula and are not able to pump while sick, you can begin to pump when you start to feel better, and even re-latch to continue breastfeeding. Formula does not have to mean the end of the breastfeeding relationship if you do not want it to.
Another thing that breastfeeding individuals consider is the vaccine. Studies have shown that the vaccine is not present in breast milk, and therefore the vaccine itself is not passed to the baby. However these studies have shown that in individuals who have had the vaccine, the “immune system builders” in the breast milk are increased, and that is what is passed to the baby, strengthening their immune system even further.
Choose your Path
These options are outlined here as a guide, and can be used in combination. Do not think that you have to pick one plan and stick to it; change the way you do things as necessary and find what works for you. Each family is different and there is no “one size fits all” approach to this. As always, you should consult a pediatrician and/or your physician regarding COVID, and contact a lactation consultant regarding feeding your baby (yes, even feeding with formula).
*This blog is written based on information gathered during a 45 day long research study by the writer. Further information can be obtained from the sources below, which were also referenced in the writer’s study and are scholarly sources.*
Charepe, Nadia, et al. “COVID-19 MRNA Vaccine and Antibody Response in Lactating Women: A Prospective Cohort Study.” BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth, vol. 21, no. 1, Sept. 2021. doi: 10.1186/s128
Davanzo, Riccardo. “Breastfeeding and COVID-19
Vaccination: Position Statement of the Italian Scientific Societies.” Italian Journal of Pediatrics 47, no. 1 (February 27, 2021). doi: 10.1186/s13052-021-00998-6.
Indrio, Flavia, et al. “Retrospective Study o
n Breastfeeding Practices by SARS-CoV-2 Positive Mothers in a High Risk Area for Coronavirus Infection.” Turkish Archives of Pediatrics, vol. 56, no. 5, Sept 2021. doi: 10.5152/TurkArchPediatr.2021.21156.
Ng, Yvonne Peng Mei, et al. “Breastfeeding in COVID-19: A Pragmatic Approach.” American Journal of Perinatology, vol. 37, no. 13, Nov. 2020. doi: 10.1055/s-0040-171650
Pandey, Akash Kumar, et al. “SARS-CoV-2 Transmission Risk through Expressed Breast Milk Feeding in Neonates Born to
COVID 19 Positive Mothers: A Prospective Observational Study.” Iranian Journal of Neonatology, vol. 12, no. 3, Summer 2021.