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Pregnancy, Breastfeeding And COV-19

Author: La Leche League of Bermuda

Pregnancy during a global pandemic is probably not what you were anticipating when you received the news you were expecting. While pregnancy is usually a very special time for a woman and her partner, going through this amazing process while facing concerns about COVID-19 carries new and unfamiliar challenges.  

Research is currently underway to understand the impacts of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy. While data are limited, at present there is no evidence women who are expecting are at higher risk of severe illness than the general population. 

If you are pregnant, it is important to note that due to changes in your body and immune system, you may be more affected by respiratory infections. As a result, you will need to take the same precautions to avoid COVID-19 infection as other people by: 

  • Washing your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. 
  • Keeping space between your- selves and others and avoiding crowded spaces. 
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth. 
  • Practising respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately. 

If your symptoms include fever, cough or difficulty breathing, seek medical care early and follow the directions of your healthcare provider. Whether you have symptoms of the virus or not, you should continue to attend your routine care appointments. 

While it is still unknown if a pregnant woman with COVID-19 can pass the virus to her fetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery, the good news is that so far, the virus has not been found in samples of amniotic fluid or breast milk. 

We do know the best thing you can do to protect the health of your newborn is choosing to breastfeed. Now, more than ever, the antibodies and immunities conferred on a newborn from mother’s milk is especially important. Breastfeeding provides protection against many illnesses and is the best source of nutrition for most infants. Your milk provides myriad health benefits to your baby, whether newly born or older and whether you have tested positive for COVID-19 or not. 

Breastfeeding will also reduce the severity of your baby’s illness if your baby does become ill. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding immediately after birth even when a positive COVID-19 test has been obtained. In addition, WHO states breastfeeding is important for an infant who is born to anyone testing positive for COVID-19 or who has a close family member who has tested positive. It is critical that all newborns be supported in breastfeeding within one hour after birth so they can benefit from the immunological components that colostrum provides. 

If you choose to breastfeed and do become ill, it is important not to interrupt breastfeeding unless medically necessary. If any member of your family has been exposed your infant has been exposed. Interrupting breastfeeding may actually increase your infant’s risk of becoming ill and even of becoming severely ill. If you do test positive for COVID-19, WHO recommends you continue breastfeeding while: 

  • Practising respiratory hygiene during feeding, which means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze and disposing of the used tissue immediately; 
  • Wearing a mask where available; 
  • Washing your hands before and after touching your baby; 
  • Routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces you have touched. 

If you are breastfeeding and become too ill to breastfeed, it is recommended that you be supported in expressing or pumping so that your baby can still be given your milk. 

Experiencing pregnancy and new motherhood during this time is certainly challenging, and support from your partner and family will be important to your peace of mind. Your healthcare professional will provide information to help you deal effectively during this pandemic, throughout your pregnancy and with antenatal care. 

If you need assistance with breastfeeding, contact La Leche League (LLL), community resources, home healthcare visitors, or your medical team. Staying informed and asking for help when you need it will go a long way toward a positive result and a good outcome. 

For breastfeeding assistance, contact LLL of Bermuda at islandgirl@northrock.bm or leave a message on our Facebook Page: La Leche League of Bermuda. BPM