What can we do to protect both newborn babies and their mothers? Headlines report that they must be separated after birth or that the baby must stay six feet away. These stories are confusing and only add to the distress.
One thing is certain; breast milk is the best choice for the newborn.
Please review these guidelines, presented by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control. These are recommendations, rather than orders. Parents need to consider the consequences and risks and discuss them with their health care providers.
Here are relevant excerpts from the recommendations from the World Health Organization:
“Can I touch and hold my newborn baby if I have COVID-19?
Yes. Close contact and early, exclusive breastfeeding helps a baby to thrive. You should be supported to
• Breastfeed safely, with good respiratory hygiene
• Hold your newborn skin-to-skin, and
• Share a room with your baby.
You should wash your hands before and after touching your baby, and keep all surfaces clean. ”
And from the Centers for Disease Control:
” Whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding should be determined by the mother in coordination with her family and healthcare providers. A mother with confirmed COVID-19 or who is a symptomatic PUI should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus to her infant, including washing her hands before touching the infant and wearing a face mask, if possible, while feeding at the breast.” (PUI means Person Under Investigation, meaning be monitored/watched for development of COVID-19)
There are consequences to consider in limiting mother baby contact.
• Separation is profoundly distressing and physically stressful for both mother and baby. Both are calmer when they are together. • Separation interferes with early breastfeeding, which can affect milk supply.
Providing breast milk to a newborn, as soon as possible, gives newborns an extra boost of specific immune factors that are fundamental to their health. Breastfeeding early and often boosts milk production which makes the next weeks and months easier. In addition, a breastfeeding baby is in close contact with that one parent. That limits the baby’s exposure to other people and any viruses and bacteria they have.
Consider the long-term benefits. Babies who are breastfed for their first three months have lower incidences of asthma and respiratory diseases later in life. Knowing that COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, it is wise to support the vitality of a good immune system and respiratory tract.
In summary, every one should practice safe hygiene. A breastfeeding parent can:
Breastfeed early and often.
Wear a mask.
Always wash your hands before and after touching your baby.
Limit contact with other people… no visitors is a good policy.
For a mother who is very sick, help her with expressing her milk and have someone else feed the baby. That person, too, should practice safe hygiene. When she’s feeling better, she can boost her supply again. She can even get help with re-lactating. I can help you with that.
For another excellent review of the various policies, Melissa Bartick, MD has a good article that examines other important points to consider, too.
There is still little that is known about the coronavirus. And yet, the benefits of breast milk and of skin-to-skin are established facts. Interestingly, there are age-old traditions all around the world that require semi-isolation of a mother and baby for the first month. That is to reduce exposure to germs and stress, very relevant!
Quarantining is actually a good idea for early postpartum. Though to be clear, that means isolating from others, not between mother and baby. There is great value in what you can offer your infant in these chaotic times.
Wear a mask.
Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands
Limit contact with other people.
These are ways you can protect yourself and your baby.