Breastfeeding and coronavirus: Mothers with COVID-19 unlikely to pass virus if they use proper hygiene

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The risk of mothers who have coronavirus passing it to their newborn babies is unlikely, even if they share the same room and breastfeed, as long as they follow proper precautions, according to a recent study published this week in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

“We have shown that rooming in with the mother and breastfeeding are safe if associated with adequate parental education of safe infection control practices, such as use of surgical masks at all times and frequent hand hygiene,” the researchers stated in the study published Thursday.

Mothers positive for COVID19 were allowed to breastfeed and practice skin-to-skin care but had to wear a surgical mask and follow proper handwashing techniques and breast cleansing before caring for their newborn. The babies also stayed near the mother in an end crib in her room.

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The small observational study involved 120 babies born of 116 mothers who had the coronavirus. None of the neonates tested positive for COVID-19 within the first 24 hours after birth. Seventy-nine of the 120 babies were tested a week later and 72 of them were again tested two weeks after birth. None tested positive or showed symptoms of the virus, according to the study.

The authors wrote that 53 babies at one month of age had a checkup via telehealth visits.

“Overall findings suggested no difference in babies born to symptomatic mothers compared to those who did not have COVID-19 symptoms,” the authors reported.

Advice for pregnant mothers has been in flux regarding SARS-CoV-2, since the virus is so new. The authors did mention other cases reported where newborns tested positive for novel coronavirus within two days after delivery. They stated those children may have contracted the disease while in the womb.

“Our data suggest that perinatal transmission of COVID-19 is unlikely to occur if correct hygiene precautions are undertaken, and that allowing neonates to room in with their mothers and direct breastfeeding are safe procedures when paired with effective parental education of infant protective strategies” the researchers stated.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) initially recommended separating mothers with COVID-19 from their babies. They also suggested feeding the infants with pumped breast milk until the mother is no longer contagious.

“When the pandemic began, the only data available came from China, where the universal approach was to immediately separate all newborns from infected mothers and isolate them for 14 days,” the AAP stated on their website.

The AAP has since updated its guidelines to say: “Mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 can room-in with their newborns when precautions are taken to protect the infants from maternal infectious respiratory secretions.”

Overall, the study's researchers felt “the well-known benefits of early mother–neonate bonding and breastfeeding should be prioritized during the perinatal period if the risks are deemed low.”

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