Safe to breastfeed newborns even if moms are Covid positive, say doctors
At least 18 newborns in Delhi have tested positive for Covid-19, but the route of transmission of infection is unclear.Updated: Aug 09, 2020 01:27 IST
With the current evidence indicating that the risk of transmitting the coronavirus disease through breast milk is minimal, doctors suggest that mothers with the infection should continue to breastfeed their newborns as it confers the baby with immunity against several diseases and improves their survival rate.
Sharing rooms should also be promoted to ensure that the mother and child bonds, the doctors said.
“Mothers who are either positive or are suspected to have Covid-19 should not be separated from their newborns. They can safely be in the same room on a separate cot. The mothers can safely breastfeed the children after taking some precautions such as wearing a mask, following strict hand hygiene, and cleaning any other surfaces she is likely to touch while feeding,” said Dr Sushma Nangia, head of the department of neonatology at Lady Hardinge Medical College. Lady Hardinge is attached with the Kalawati Saran Children’s Hospital, which is one of the biggest stand-alone paediatric hospital in the country.
She said babies have to be placed in a separate cot about six feet away from the mother’s bed. And, every two hours, the mother may breastfeed the baby.
“There is no evidence to suggest that mothers can transmit the infection to babies through breast milk and given the benefits of it, breastfeeding must be promoted. Only a few cases have been reported globally wherein viral particles have been found in the breast milk, but these were dead particles that cannot cause infection. Breastfeeding provides protective elements against several other diseases,” Dr Nangia said.
At least 18 newborns in Delhi have tested positive for Covid-19, but the route of transmission of infection is unclear. “There is no conclusive proof of vertical transmission of Covid-19 in babies. And, in many cases, the babies test negative on a repeat test which could suggest that the virus detected could be fluids from the mother that the baby might have taken in,” Dr Nangia said.
Vertical transmission is when an infection is passed on from a mother to a child through the placenta or breast milk just before or immediately after birth. Horizontal transmission is when Covid-19 is passed on from person to person through respiratory droplets.
The World Health Organization recommends that “mothers with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 should be encouraged to initiate or continue to breastfeed. Mothers should be counselled that the benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks for transmission”.
The same has been endorsed by the National Neonatal Forum, Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), and the Indian Academy of Paediatrics.
A study of 120 newborns in New York city, United States, published in the journal Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, shows that none of the babies got the infection during childbirth or after two weeks of breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact.
“There is no contraindication for breastfeeding even with Covid-19. Even for mothers with viral infections like HIV, breastfeeding along with proper therapy is best for the baby. That is much better than providing contaminated cow milk etc,” said Dr Roopali Diwan, head of the department of gynaecology, Safdarjung hospital.
However, it is easier said than done. Doctors say families push back thinking that breastfeeding while being infected will put the baby at risk.
“A lot of my students working across the country have said that many mothers or family members believe that if the mother is Covid-19 positive, breastfeeding would harm the baby. This is the reason I suggest that the entire family should be counselled that breastfeeding is safe,” Dr Nangia said.