Biggest concerns of most of the pregnant women and lactating mothers are about how this virus affects them, including their unborn or newborn children, and whether a COVID-19 positive mother can breastfeed her newborn baby or not, respectively.
Are Pregnant Women Vulnerable to COVID-19?
Pregnant women are considered a vulnerable population who are at risk of viral respiratory infections, such as seasonal flu and COVID-19. As there is no vaccine against COVID-19 infection, standard primary preventive actions are recommended for pregnant women. This includes frequent hand hygiene, social distancing and avoiding contact with COVD-19 suspects, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). At present, although research is limited, experts do not see evidence that the virus can be transmitted from mother and affect the baby.
Can a Lactating Mother Breastfeed if She Tested Positive?
Yes! COVID-19 positive mothers can breastfeed their babies if they wish to do so. However, they should:
- Practice respiratory hygiene during feeding (covering mouth or using a tissue while coughing or sneezing, or wearing a mask during feeding)
- Wash hands before, and after touching her baby
- Clean and disinfect surfaces they have touched, routinely
Breast milk gives protection to most infants against many illnesses and is the best source of nutrition for babies. Disruption of breastfeeding can lead to a decrease in protective immune factors found in breast milk.
COVID-19 has not been detected in breast milk till now. However, experts are still not sure whether COVID-19 positive mothers can spread the virus through their breast milk.
It is important that lactating and breastfeeding mothers consume Zinc and Vitamin C. It is also important that they stay well-hydrated all through as they sweat a lot.
Precautions for Breastfeeding Mothers
If you are a lactating and breastfeeding mother, here’s what you can do to protect and prepare yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protecting yourselves and others
- Clean your hands frequently. Wash hands with soap and water or, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (if soap & water is not available):
- Before eating, after using the toilet
- After blowing the nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After having been in public places
- After having touched surfaces in public places
- After having touched other people
- Avoid contact with sick individuals, particularly those with a cough
- Avoid going out unless it is absolutely required. Wear a mask always , when out or meeting people who do not reside with you
- Avoid touching face, mouth, nose and eyes
- Avoid events, meetings including any social/religious gatherings
- Strictly adhere to social distancing practices if COVID-19 pandemic is spreading in your community:
- Avoid crowds, particularly in poorly ventilated or confined spaces
- Complete your grocery shopping at usual off-peak hours if you do not have anyone else to go, or get it delivered
- Avoid using public transport, such as buses, trains, cabs, autos, etc.
- Continue to practice hand hygiene. Wash hands with soap and water frequently, or an alcohol-based sanitiser.
- Practise Social Distancing. Keep at least 6-feet distance between yourselves and others, and avoid all crowded spaces
- Avoiding touching your face, mouth, eyes and nose with unclean hands
- Practise respiratory hygiene. Cover your mouth and nose, preferably with bent elbow, while coughing and sneezing or use tissue and dispose off the used tissue immediately and sanitise your hands
- Stay physically active if your doctor has given you the go-ahead to do so.
- Talk to your doctor or care provider about your concerns about COVID-19
- Call your doctor to discuss how to get treatment for COVID-19 and how to breastfeed your baby safely. Hospitals like Apollo Hospitals are fully safe and functional for all check-ups and virtual consultations and follow up consultations for any query.
- Have all the prescription and OTC (over-the-counter) medicines, including medical supplies like tissues, pulse oximeter, thermometer, etc. to treat fever and other COVID-19 symptoms. If you are already using any prescription medications, refill them, or consider using online medicine delivery Apps to get your medications. You can use Apollo 24/7 App for door delivery of any medicine
- Activate your social network. Be regularly in touch with family, neighbours/community, friends, health care providers.
Related Article: Impact of COVID-19 on Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers
FAQS (Frequently Asked Questions)
1. Are pregnant women at a higher risk from COVID-19?
There is no study or evidence, at present that says pregnant women are at higher risk of severe illness compared to non-pregnant women.
However, owing to changes in their bodies and immune systems, they are vulnerable to get more affected by some respiratory infections. Therefore, they must take proper precautions to protect themselves against COVID-19, and report any potential symptoms (fever, cough, or difficulty breathing) to their doctor or healthcare centre immediately.
2. Should all pregnant women be tested for COVID-19?
In order to safeguard the mother, the child and the caregivers, it is advised that all pregnant women be tested for COVID-19 before their delivery. However, eligibility and testing protocols differ depending on your current location. The WHO strongly recommends that pregnant
women with COVID-19 symptoms should be prioritized for testing. If a pregnant woman is tested positive for COVID-19, she may need specialised care.
3. Can COVID-19 spread from a mother to her unborn or newborn child?
We still do not know this. Although research is limited, available data (till date), does not show that the virus can be transmitted to unborn or newborn babies from mothers during pregnancy or delivery. So far, COVID-19 virus was not found in the samples of breastmilk or amniotic fluid.
4. Can a COVID-19 infected pregnant woman touch or hold her baby?
Yes! Early, exclusive breastfeeding and close contact with mother helps a baby to thrive. WHO recommends pregnant woman should be supported to:
- Breastfeed her baby safely, with good respiratory hygiene
- Hold her newborn skin-to-skin
- Share a room with her baby
The pregnant woman should wash her hands before and after touching her baby and keep all frequently touched surfaces clean.
5. What if a lactating COVID-19 infected mother is too unwell to breastfeed?
According to WHO, if a lactating mother infected with COVID-19 or other complications is too unwell to breastfeed her baby, she should be supported to safely offer her baby with breastmilk in a convenient, possible way that is acceptable to her. This may include:
- Expressing milk
- Donor human milk
6. What care should healthcare facilities provide to women suspected of or confirmed with COVID-19 during pregnancy and childbirth?
All pregnant women and those suspected or confirmed with COVID-19, should be provided with good care before, during and after delivery, including antenatal, postnatal, newborn, intrapartum and mental health care. A safe and positive childbirth experience as per WHO includes:
- Being treated with respect and dignity
- Having a companion of choice present during childbirth
- Clear communication by maternity staff
- Appropriate pain relief strategies
- Mobility in labour where possible, and birth position of choice
If COVID-19 infection is suspected or is confirmed, care providers should take all suitable precautions to reduce infection risks to themselves and others. This includes hand hygiene, as well as proper use of protective clothing like the gown, medical mask and gloves.
7. Do pregnant women with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection need C-Section (Caesarean section) for safety?
No. The WHO recommends that C-Sections (caesarean sections) should only be done when it is medically justified. The mode of birth should be customised and based on the woman’s preferences together with obstetric indications.