According to a new research published on Thursday in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, if appropriate safety measures are taken, mothers infected with COVID-19 are unlikely to pass the virus to their newborns while breastfeeding.
The study, which was carried out on mothers and their babies at three New York City hospitals between March 22 and May 17, revealed that before handling the babies, wearing a face mask while breastfeeding and cleaning hands prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading from mothers to their infants. Even when both shared a room and the mother’s breastfed, the study revealed no cases of viral transmission among the 120 babies born to COVID-positive mothers.
Except while breastfeeding, the babies stayed in enclosed cribs, which was six feet apart from their mothers. Mothers were also made to follow proper hand- and breast-washing procedures and to wear masks when handling their child. The researchers conducted follow-up exams for the babies after they tested for COVID-19 within 24 hours after birth. The study found that none of the babies tested positive for the virus two weeks after birth. However, since fecal and urine coronavirus tests had not been approved at the time of the study, the babies were only tested via nasal swab as blood.
The new study found that babies are rarely becoming infected with the virus after birth when proper safety measures are followed, despite evidence that COVID-19-positive mothers can pass the virus on to their unborn infants. Co-author of the study Dr. Patricia DeLaMora said in a press release that they know that skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding are important both for mother-infant bonding and for long-term child health. Their findings suggest that if appropriate infection control measures are followed, babies born to mothers with COVID-19 infection can still benefit from these safely. The study indicates coronavirus infection in the womb is rare.
According to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), during the first 24 to 96 hours after birth, between 2 and 5 percent of babies born to an infected mother has tested positive for COVID-19. Dr. Christine M. Salvatore of Weill Cornell, Medicine-New York Presbyterian, said the data on the risk of COVID-19 transmission while breastfeeding or during pregnancy is limited to a small number of case studies. As a result, guidelines for pregnant women and new mothers vary. They are hoping their study will offer some guarantee to new mothers that the risk of them transmitting COVID-19 to their babies is very minimal.
BREASTFEEDING AND COVID-19
The new study supports current guidelines by WHO that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should continue to breastfeed. According to the UN health agency, the usefulness of breastfeeding, like nurturing mother-infant interaction “substantially outweigh” the potential transmission risks of the virus. The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) indicated that the main worry is the virus being transmitted from mother to infant through respiratory droplets, not breast milk. The guidelines indicate that women who opt to breastfeed need to wear a mask, wash their hands, and clean their breast area with soap and water before every feeding.
The new study has prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommended a temporary separation between infected mothers and newborns. It was carried out in early April based on limited data from China that involved separating newborns from their mothers for 14 days. Currently, pediatrician-issued guidelines now indicate that if a mother wears a mask and cleans hands before holding, her infant a baby is at low risk of infection when staying with the mother after delivery.