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Breastfeeding Safely During Coronavirus

Obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Bethany Perry answers the top questions new moms are asking in the midst of the pandemic.

Becoming a new mom is at the same time an experience that is wonderful and overwhelming. Many women who are pregnant or nursing in the midst of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are now experiencing additional stress and concern for the well-being of their infants. Concerned mothers are searching for answers and information to guide them through this difficult time. Bethany Perry, MD, medical director, The OB/GYN Center, Abington – Jefferson Health, shared the latest on COVID-19 to provide mothers with the knowledge to help keep themselves and their newborns healthy.

It is important to note that COVID-19 is an emerging illness in which devoted professionals are actively studying to gather new information. Guidelines for patients and physicians are updated regularly as we continue to learn more.

Are pregnant women and newborns at high risk of acquiring COVID-19?

There are no studies that currently suggest pregnant women are at an increased risk of acquiring COVID-19. Due to changes in how their immune systems function, women who are pregnant may be at increased risk for serious infection; but, this has not been confirmed specifically for COVID-19.

If a mother is COVID-19 positive at the time of delivery, there are evolving guidelines about the separation of the newborn after birth to protect the newborn. During this time, breastfeeding will still be an option but it may be recommended that the mother pump and another adult feed the baby breastmilk by bottle. The timing of reuniting the newborn with the mother depends on a negative test result for COVID-19 and the absence of symptoms.

If a mother is positive for COVID-19, can she transmit the virus to her fetus?

It is currently unknown if a COVID-19 positive mother can transmit the virus to her fetus. Studies and case reports have reflected conflicting information. However, this is being actively studied.

What are the risks of transmitting COVID-19 through breastfeeding?

As there is no current evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through breast milk, it is acceptable and encouraged for mothers to continue to breastfeed their newborns. If a mother is positive for COVID-19, she can continue to breastfeed. However, she is encouraged to express her milk and have a non-infected caregiver feed the baby. If expressing breast milk is not possible, the mother should practice good hand hygiene and wear a mask during feedings.

Equipment used to express breast milk should be cleaned after every use and allowed an ample amount of time to dry. Be sure to use care and good hand hygiene when transferring the milk to the bottle used for feeding to avoid exposure to contaminated surfaces.

How is COVID-19 affecting prenatal and postpartum visits?

New recommendations are endorsing the limitation of office visits to approximately four to six visits over the course of the pregnancy. Obstetricians are trying to help patients limit their exposure by grouping recommended blood tests and coordinating ultrasounds with office visits.

Telehealth and tools such as home blood pressure monitoring have helped clinicians continue to care for patients safely outside of the office. Not all pregnant women are candidates for this abbreviated schedule of visits. Women with certain high-risk conditions may require more frequent visits.

What measures can pregnant and nursing mothers take to protect themselves and their newborns?

Pregnant mothers should practice standard COVID-19 prevention practices such as frequent hand hygiene, social distancing, staying at home, and wearing a mask when leaving the house.

Newborns are susceptible to infection because of their immature immune systems. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to limit a newborn’s exposures. Remember that maintaining excellent hand hygiene, even in the home, is another way to protect your baby.

New information about COVID-19 is being obtained and shared daily. Jefferson Health continues to update policies and procedures to preserve the health and safety of all during this time of crisis. To receive the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations, contact your trusted obstetrician.

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COVID-19, From the Experts