Safety tips for breastfeeding mothers during COVID-19

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The end of August wraps up National Breastfeeding Awareness Month.

It’s well-known that breastfeeding has health benefits for both mom and baby, but some new mothers may wonder if it’s safe to nurse during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Tosin Goje, M.D., an OB/GYN at Cleveland Clinic, breastfeeding is safe. She said even a mother who tests positive for the coronavirus can breastfeed.

“If she wants to breastfeed, she has the option of nursing directly or she could express the breast milk,” she said. “If she’s going to express the breast milk, she needs to maintain universal precautions — wear a face covering or face mask, maintain hand hygiene, make sure that the breast pump is always cleaned based on the manufacturer’s recommendation.”

Breast milk is highly nutritious for infants and protects them from infection. It’s not known if breastfeeding will protect a baby from COVID-19, but breastfed infants are less likely to have severe respiratory symptoms in general, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Scientific evidence is limited, but data suggests mothers with COVID-19 aren’t likely to transmit the virus through breast milk.

Goje said women with symptoms or a confirmed case of COVID-19 should properly disinfect their hands before touching their baby and wear a mask while nursing or pumping.

“When a mother wears a face mask, especially a symptomatic COVID-positive mother, when she wears a face mask, she’s actually protecting her baby who cannot wear a face mask, whose immune system also is not fully developed,” said Goje.

For women who express breast milk at workplaces where there’s a high coronavirus exposure risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises new mothers to use good hand hygiene and wear a face covering while pumping.