Coronavirus Shouldn't Stop You From Doing This One Thing, WHO Says
New parents have plenty of things to worry about amid COVID, but this shouldn't be one of them.
Parenting is a nerve-racking enough experience as it is, and the coronavirus pandemic has only added to the stress of raising little ones. This is especially true in light of recent research that suggests children may be likely to spread the virus—a departure from what was initially believed about their role in COVID transmission. But there's now a small bit of good news for parents of newborns: The World Health Organization (WHO) says that parents should continue breastfeeding, even if they've tested positive for coronavirus themselves.
In a press conference on August 3, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, announced that parents who intend to breastfeed their children shouldn't let their COVID status deter them. "WHO recommends that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be encouraged the same as all other mothers to initiate or continue breastfeeding," said Ghebreyesus.
A May 2020 study published by the WHO found that, among a group of 46 mother-baby breastfeeding pairs in which all mothers had COVID-19, just 13 infants tested positive for the virus. The organization noted that, "It appears that COVID-19 in infants and children represents a much lower threat to survival and health than other infections that breastfeeding is protective against."
Another recent study published in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health also found that it's unlikely that COVID-19 can be passed on through breastfeeding. The researchers followed 120 babies born to parents who tested positive for COVID-19 between March and May at three New York hospitals. The parents were allowed to practice skin-to-skin care methods, as well as breastfeed in the delivery room.
The babies were then tested for coronavirus at various stages. All 120 newborns tested negative for COVID-19 in their first 24 hours of life. Then, 82 of the 120 subjects received an additional test between day five and day seven of life, and 72 infants were also tested after 14 days. In every case, the tests came back negative and none of the newborns exhibited any visible coronavirus symptoms.
"Our data suggest that perinatal transmission is unlikely to occur if correct hygiene precautions are undertaken and that rooming in and breastfeeding are safe procedures when paired with effective parental education of infant protective strategies," the study authors concluded.
Of course, that doesn't mean breastfeeding is an entirely risk-free activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that breastfeeding parents who have either a suspected or lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 wash their hands before touching their baby, wear a mask while breastfeeding, wash their hands before touching any part of a breast pump or bottle, and clean all feeding accessories thoroughly after they've been used. And for more insight into where coronavirus is spreading, check out Here's How Much COVID Cases Are Rising in Every State.