There are lot of anxieties and fears among lactating mothers regarding breastfeeding when they are Covid positive. They are unsure if they are risking the health of their child by breastfeeding and holding the child so close to them. Many families in fact tend to separate the mother and child in such cases and don’t allow both to come near each other for at least 15 to 20 days.
WHO recommends that mothers with COVID-19 should be encouraged to continue to breastfeed. While breastfeeding by Covid positive mothers cannot be said to be totally safe, the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the risk of the child getting the infection from the mother.
Breast milk is the primary source of nutrition and recommended by WHO as the only source of food for children till first six months of life. Early and uninterrupted body contact between mother and child also significantly improves survival of newborns and reduces morbidity. The mother should therefore take proper precautions and continue to breastfeed the child even if she is Covid positive, especially the child is younger than six months.
Dr. Vidya V Bhat, Laparoscopic Surgeon & Fertility Specialist, Medical Director, Radhakrishna Multispeciality Hospital and IVF Center, Bengaluru says “Covid positive mothers whose child is more than six months of age can practice expressed breast milk, which should be stored and fed to the child with a bottle. Covid-positive mothers who show mild or no symptoms can continue breastfeeding the child as usual after taking due precautions such as good hand hygiene and masking and following Covid appropriate behavior. Mothers should be separated from the child only if they are very sick with Covid symptoms. In such cases, expressed milk can be practiced with proper hygiene of the container”.
After due consideration, the Government of India has given approval to administer COVID-19 vaccination to lactating women. It is actively encouraging such women and those who have recently given birth to take the vaccine. Covid vaccines are totally safe with no proven risks to pregnant or lactating women, so they should not hesitate to get themselves vaccinated. Most vaccines available in India are also effective against the new Covid variants, though the efficacy would vary for different strains.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no need to give any gap in breastfeeding after taking the vaccine. Covid vaccination is good not only for the mother’s health, but of the child too. Antibodies that get developed in the mother’s body after vaccination get transferred to the child with her milk, giving protection against Covid through relative immunity.
“Breastfeeding is crucial for the health of a newborn child and alternatives like formula milk are poor substitutes. Family members should take care to give women adequate privacy for breastfeeding at home. Offices need to have separate feeding rooms for female employees to encourage breastfeeding” says Dr Vidya Bhat.
Women should not breastfeed in some conditions, such as if have been diagnosed as HIV positive or are suffering from diseases like breast carcinoma or active pulmonary TB. In all other situations, breastfeeding remains the best option.