Good news for breastfeeding moms: WHO said breastfeeding mothers do not seem to be transmitting the novel coronavirus to their babies as they were not able to detect traces of a live virus in breast milk.
In a press conference last Friday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the agency had carefully investigated the risk of mothers passing on coronavirus to their babies.
Children have a relatively lower risk of getting COVID-19, "but are at high risk of numerous other diseases and conditions that breastfeeding prevents," Tedros said.
According to Anshu Banerjee, WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research Senior Advisor, they have only detected "fragments" of the virus in breast milk, and not the live virus. "So the risk of transmission from mother to child so far has not been established," he added.
The WHO however, admits that evidence is so far based on limited studies and that they are continuously learning about the spread of the virus and its risks to babies whose mothers have COVID-19.
Limited studies on mothers with COVID-19 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, however, point that virus was not detected in breastmilk. In Wuhan, China, breastmilk samples were collected and tested from six patients who were positive with COVID-19 during pregnancy. The samples showed negative results for the presence of coronavirus.
Based on experience, COVID-19 is not generally severe in infants and young children. Transmission from the respiratory tract of infected mothers appears to be the main risk of transmission, the WHO said.
Breastmilk has antibodies and immunological benefits that protect babies from respiratory infections. Breast milk is also vital for the child's growth, development, and health, and it prevents obesity and non-communicable diseases as the baby grows.
Appropriate Precautions for Breastfeeding Moms
In a paper issued by the WHO, it maintains that breastmilk is still the best source of nutrition for babies, even when the mothers is a confirmed or suspected coronavirus patient.
Mothers who are infected or are suspected of having coronavirus can still breastfeed her baby as long as she takes the necessary precautions, including:
1. The mother wears a mask to cover her mouth and nose during breastfeeding and to limit her contact with the baby. Masks or any cloth coverings should, however, not be placed on babies less than two years old.
2. Handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after touching the baby should be practiced regularly. Hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol may be used in the absence of soap and water.
3. Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces that the mother and/or the baby has touched.
WHO also maintains that close contact of the mother and the baby, and exclusive breastfeeding are crucial for the babies' survival. Even if the mother is infected with the novel coronavirus, she is encouraged to touch and hold the baby, breastfeed but observe the necessary respiratory hygiene precautions, have baby skin-to-skin contact, and share a room with the child.
What if the mother is too ill to breastfeed?
In cases when the mother is too sick to breastfeed, breast milk may be given through other means such as expressing milk, relactation, or get human milk from certified milk bank or donors.
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