If you have or might have COVID-19, you may be thinking a lot about how to keep any loved ones that you live with from getting sick too. If you’re currently breastfeeding Baby, you may also be wondering if it’s safe for you to continue to do so while preventing your little one from picking up the coronavirus.
Breastfeeding provides mothers and babies with a number of benefits — including a phenomenal source of nutrition for baby and a great deal of protection against disease and illnesses for both mom and baby. While there’s still a lot that’s not known about COVID-19, there are recommendations that are meant to help prevent the spread of the virus from mothers who are sick or likely sick on to their babies. So however you decide to move forward with breastfeeding, it should be in coordination with your healthcare provider so that they can give you the best current guidance possible.
If you have or may have COVID-19, is it safe to breastfeed?
Based on the information that we have right now, it doesn’t seem that the coronavirus is present in the breastmilk of women infected with COVID-19, however babies can become infected with COVID-19 from you or people around you. Milk production may sometimes dip during a serious illness, but that doesn’t change the quality of your milk and may even provide your baby with additional protection against illness.
If you want to breastfeed your baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends expressing breastmilk with a pump. You should also take some extra precautions while pumping, like washing your hands and breasts before touching any bottle parts or pump parts and then cleaning and sanitizing the pump and all parts after you pump. You should then have a healthy caregiver give your baby that expressed milk.
The AAP says that if you must breastfeed directly, you should take precautions to protect your little one. It’s recommended that you thoroughly wash your hands and your breasts before touching and feeding your child. You should also be sure to wear a face mask to protect your child from respiratory droplets that carry the virus.
We recognize that the reality of your life may make some of these recommendations challenging or impossible — not everyone has a healthy caregiver available to give their baby expressed breastmilk — so be sure to speak with your healthcare provider honestly about any questions or concerns you have. You should also be honest about how you want to feed your child and advocate for your breastfeeding preferences so that your provider can help support you in reaching your breastfeeding goals.
What should you do if you are too sick to breastfeed your child?
COVID-19 affects people differently, and symptoms may range from no symptoms or mild symptoms to more serious issues and major illness. Depending on how you are feeling, you may not feel well enough to regularly pump breastmilk or breastfeed your child directly. If so, this is really and truly okay. If you’re feeling especially sick but want to continue breastfeeding, you can:
- Express breastmilk with a pump as often as you feel up to it, even if it’s less frequently than normal. When you do, be sure to take the extra safety precautions mentioned for pumping listed above.
- You can stop breastfeeding while you feel too sick to do so, and then go back to breastfeeding your baby again when you feel better. This is called relactation, and many moms who need to stop breastfeeding for a time can have success with this. (You can learn more about relactation at Kelly Mom and La Leche International.) Again, the quantity of milk you’re producing could dip during illness, but keep in mind that you still may need to pump for your own comfort — stopping breastfeeding suddenly can cause pain and discomfort, clogged milk ducts, or even mastitis.
- You can consider using donor milk while you can’t breastfeed. Donor milk is provided by people who may produce more milk than their own baby needs and then share that milk with families who need it. There are a number of resources that can help you learn about the process and find donor milk near you here.
If these options prove difficult, it’s okay to use or supplement with formula. Don’t feel guilty, and don’t beat yourself up. You’re doing your best, and as long as you take the time you need to recover and make sure that your little one is fed, then you’re doing great.
What else do you need to know?
If you have COVID-19 and you’ve just had your baby in the hospital, it may be recommended that you and your baby be separated for a time to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to your newborn. It’s not yet clear if newborns are at a greater risk of severe complications from COVID-19, so you should speak with your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of spending time apart and how this will impact your desire to breastfeed. If you’re recovering from COVID-19 at home with your family, you may be also asked to self-isolate, which means staying apart from the people that you live with, including your child, as much as possible, and staying in a separate “sick room” and using a separate bathroom, if possible — though we recognize this isn’t an option for everyone.
Again, speak with your healthcare provider, be honest about any questions or concerns that you have, and make sure you understand how you should best care for yourself and how you should go about continuing breastfeeding if you feel up to it. It may be extremely hard to think about being apart from Baby in this way, but it’s important to follow any instructions provided by your healthcare provider to the best of your ability. The goal here is to allow you to recover and to keep your loved ones as healthy and safe as possible.
You should also know that if you do need to stop breastfeeding, even for a short time, it’s entirely okay and you don’t need to feel guilty about it. You need to care for yourself, and if you’re seriously ill you need to respect how your body is feeling and take the time you need to recover. One of the best things you can do for your child is be back to your full self as soon as can be.
Updated April 7, 2020
- Kelly Bonyata. “Relactation and Adoptive Breastfeeding: The Basics.” Kelly Mom. KellyMom.com, January 13, 2018. Retrieved March 26 2020. https://kellymom.com/bf/got-milk/relactation/.
- Karen M. Puopolo et al. “INITIAL GUIDANCE: Management of Infants Born to Mothers with COVID-19.” American Acedemy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn, Section on Neonatal Perinatal Medicine, and Committee on Infectious Diseases, April 2 2020. Retrieved April 6 2020. https://downloads.aap.org/AAP/PDF/COVID%2019%20Initial%20Newborn%20Guidance.pdf.
- Alyson Sulaski Wyckoff. “AAP issues guidance on infants born to mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.” AAP News. American Academy of Pediatrics, April 2 2020. Retrieved April 6 2020. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2020/04/02/infantcovidguidance040220.
- “How to Protect Yourself.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, April 4 2020. Retrieved April 6 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html.
- “Interim Considerations for Infection Prevention and Control of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Inpatient Obstetric Healthcare Settings.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 18 2020. Retrieved April 6 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/inpatient-obstetric-healthcare-guidance.html.
- “Milk Donation and Milk Sharing.” La Leche League USA. La Leche League USA, January 2020. Retrieved March 26 2020. https://lllusa.org/milkdonation/.
- “Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, March 13 2020. Retrieved April 6 2020. https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/practice-advisory/articles/2020/03/novel-coronavirus-2019.
- “Pregnancy & Breastfeeding: Information about Coronavirus Disease 2019.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, April 3 2020. Retrieved April 6 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html.
- “Q&A on COVID-19, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, March 18 2020. Retrieved March 26 2020. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-on-covid-19-pregnancy-childbirth-and-breastfeeding.
- “Relactation: Resuming Breastfeeding After an Interruption.” La Leche League International. La Leche League International. Retrieved March 26 2020. https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/relactation/.