Coronavirus disease 2019, more commonly known as COVID-19, is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The first cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in late 2019, so information on the disease is constantly evolving as new data becomes available.
The advice below is based on expert analysis of what is currently known about the disease, as well as other viral respiratory infections.
If you are confirmed to have or are under investigation of having COVID-19, you should consult with your healthcare provider about best practices for breastfeeding at this time.
So far, in limited studies, the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in breast milk or amniotic fluid. Given these initial findings, the World Health Organization (WHO) encourages mothers infected with COVID-19 to continue breastfeeding.
Breast milk contains antibodies that can fight infection and may provide protective factors against other respiratory illnesses during this time and also helps protect your child throughout infancy. Infant formula does not contain antibodies. In addition, breastfeeding reduces a family’s reliance on formula feeding supplies, which can be a concern during times of food insecurity caused by pandemic.
A breastfeeding mother who is known to have COVID-19 or is suspected of having the disease can take these steps to reduce her child’s risk of illness:
- Consult a doctor. Seek advice from your healthcare provider and keep them informed of your condition.
- Monitor your temperature and symptoms. Check your temperature twice a day and watch for symptoms—for yourself and your baby. Call 911 if you experience breathing difficulties.
- Wear a mask when caring for your infant, and cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, since COVID-19 seems to be spread primarily through droplets from the mouths and noses of infected people.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before feeding your baby. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your face and your baby’s face, especially eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Disinfect surfaces you or your baby may have touched, since the virus can survive on surfaces for hours (in some cases, as long as 72 hours).
- Limit close contact between your baby and anyone outside of your home.
- Pump or express your milk, and have someone else who is not sick feed it to your baby. Wash your hands before and after you touch any part of the pump, including the collection bottles.
- Avoid falling asleep with your baby. Parents should avoid sleeping with their babies as they may be less alert, due to illness, and unable to follow the above guidelines.
Contact your child’s pediatrician immediately if you suspect illness in your child. Call 911 if your child experiences breathing difficulties or has blue lips.
If you become too ill to breastfeed or express milk for your baby, consider using donor milk or infant formula to supplement. Once you are well, you may be able to reestablish your milk supply (relactate) and resume breastfeeding.
World Health Organization, Q&A on COVID-19, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding
World Health Organization, Breastfeeding advice during the COVID-19 outbreak
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
American Academy of Pediatrics, Management of Infants Born to Mothers with COVID-19