Can I Still Breastfeed if I Have Coronavirus?

June 9, 2020
Pregnant women and those who are in the lactation period ask themselves if they can nurse their babies if they test positive for coronavirus. Both the World Health Organization and other associated institutions have clarified the situation. We'll explain.

Pregnancy raises all sorts of questions, as does motherhood. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s logical for mothers to ask themselves if you can still breastfeed if you have coronavirus.

It’s possible for a mother, even without clear symptoms, to receive a diagnosis of coronavirus. Let’s not forget that there are countries and specific geographical regions where they are even testing individuals without symptoms.

We’re dealing with a highly contagious virus that’s capable of spreading rapidly from person to person. Therefore, isolation measurements are being implemented all over the world. With all of this in mind, we want to answer the following question: Can mothers with coronavirus still breastfeed their babies?

Breastfeeding is always the best option according to experts

The World Health Organization (OMS) has maintained the same stance since the beginning of the pandemic. Women with SARS-CoV-2 should do everything possible to continue breastfeeding. They should practice special precautions, but should not interrupt the supply of breast milk to their babies.

According to data from UNICEF, children that breastfeed are up to six times less likely to die prematurely. This has to do with the protection that breast milk offers in the face of respiratory and digestive infections.

Breastfeeding is also beneficial for mothers, as mothers who breastfeed are less likely to suffer hemorrhages after birth. There are also long term benefits, which include a lower risk of breast cancer and uterine cancer. These double benefits are the reason why women should still breastfeed, even if they test positive for coronavirus.

International medical organizations have been consistent in their recommendations encouraging breastfeeding. We shouldn’t overlook the economic aspect either since breast milk is available at no cost.

A mother with coronavirus breastfeeding her child.
The WHO continues to recommend breastfeeding, even if a mother has tested positive for coronavirus

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Coronavirus during pregnancy

Knowing if a woman can still breastfeed her baby if she’s tested positive for coronavirus has to do with the relationship between pregnancy and COVID-19. Fortunately, this pandemic has shown to be benign in regard to gestation up until this moment. This was not the case during the flu pandemic in 2009, for example.

The mortality of the virus doesn’t increase among pregnant women, nor can we consider pregnancy to be a risk factor. The recommendations that were expressed at the beginning of the pandemic regarding the protection of pregnant women as a vulnerable group have to do with a medical principle of precaution.

Experts believe that vertical transmission of COVID-19 cannot be confirmed. This is based on scientific studies that took place regarding previous coronavirus outbreaks, such as SARS in 2003. To date, there’s no evidence that a mother can transmit coronavirus to the fetus via the placenta.

What we do have is a new observation study with some pregnant women infected during this current SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in which hospitalization time increased with pregnant women and the need for intensive therapy. However, there’s no decisive data nor is there enough to be able to consider the results as definitive.

A pregnant woman resting.
Pregnant women don’t transmit the virus to the fetus

Discover more: Coronavirus Detection: What’s a PCR Test?

Measures you should take so you can still breastfeed your baby even if you have coronavirus

There’s no evidence that suggests that coronavirus can spread through a mother’s milk. Just the same, it’s important to be cautious. Breastfeeding involves direct contact that favors the exchange of respiratory droplets. Likewise, if a woman chooses to extract her milk in order to feed her baby with a bottle, the same criteria apply:

  • Wash your hands before and after feeding your baby
  • Use a mask while you’re breastfeeding or giving your baby a bottle, even if it’s not a medical mask
  • Reduce direct and close contact between the mother’s face and that of her baby
  • Wash bottles after each use

So, can women still breastfeed even if they have coronavirus?

The answer is yes. Women should carry on breastfeeding even if they test positive for coronavirus. If a mother has symptoms and feels very weak, she can opt to extract her milk and bottle-feed her baby rather than nursing directly. Just the same, if continuing to offer her baby breast milk is possible, then she should do so.

  • Navarro, Gimeno, and Jose Manuel Martín Morales. “MANEJO DEL RIESGO DE CONGAGIO POR CORONAVIRUS EN MADRES Y RECIÉN NACIDOS.” (2020).
  • Anderson, Philip O. “Breastfeeding and respiratory antivirals: coronavirus and influenza.” Breastfeeding Medicine 15.3 (2020): 128-128.
  • Ranganathan, Ranjitha, Khan Amir Maroof, and Pragti Chhabra. “Antenatal care, care at birth, and breastfeeding during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.” Indian Journal of Community Health 32.1 (2020): 17-20.
  • Khan, Naushad, et al. “Coronavirus Effects on Pregnant Women in The World.” Available at SSRN 3569040 (2020).