CDC hesitant to recommend breastfeeding with COVID-19 while some experts fully support it

March 10, 2020

Breastfeeding with coronavirus

The Centers for Disease Control admits that much is still unknown about COVID-19, including how it spreads. However, it's believed that it mainly spreads via "respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza (flu) and other respiratory pathogens spread." 

According to the CDC, it's unknown whether or not it's possible to spread coronavirus through breast milk. However, in the limited cases reported, with both COVID-19 and and another coronavirus infection, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV),  the virus has not been detected in any breast milk.

While no viruses were found, they did find antibodies in one case of a woman with a similar virus. Antibodies were found in the breast milk of a lactating woman with SARS-CoV, which could help protect your baby from infection.

While the CDC recommends that a mother with the flu continue breastfeeding or feeding expressed breast milk to her infant, it's hesitate to make recommendations to mothers with COVID-19 because they say that much is still unknown. 

"Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most infants. However, much is unknown about COVID-19. Whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding should be determined by the mother in coordination with her family and healthcare providers.  A mother with confirmed COVID-19 or who is a symptomatic PUI should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus to her infant, including washing her hands before touching the infant and wearing a face mask, if possible, while feeding at the breast.  If expressing breast milk with a manual or electric breast pump, the mother should wash her hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use. If possible, consider having someone who is well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant," the CDC advised. 

Dr. Jack Newman, a Canadian pediatrician specializing in breastfeeding medicine, wrote about it on his Facebook page, saying the antibodies in breast milk will help protect the child from infection. 

"It seems that the first reaction to any new virus is to separate mothers and babies and to tell them they can't breastfeed. The same happened a couple of years back with SARS, H1N1 and other virues. But the safe course is to keep breastfeeding. The reaction, 'we don't know, so the mother should not breastfeed, just to be safe' is not good practice," Newman wrote.

Organizations like La Leche League International, agree. It also recommends that mothers with coronavirus or any other respiratory infection continue nursing their babies.

"With over 60 years of breastfeeding experience, La Leche League International stands firm in encouraging all families to recognize the importance of breastfeeding in providing immunological protections to the breastfed child. Most often, babies who are being nursed remain healthy even when their parents or other family members fall ill with an infectious illness. There is a growing body of research showing babies benefit from multiple and diverse immunologic proteins, including antibodies, provided in human milk, particularly through direct breastfeeding."

As for pregnant women, the CDC says there isn't enough information to make any conclusions, however, it says pregnant women experience immunologic and physiologic changes that could make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19. 

"We do not have information on adverse pregnancy outcomes in pregnant women with COVID-19. Pregnancy loss, including miscarriage and stillbirth, has been observed in cases of infection with other related coronaviruses [SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV] during pregnancy. High fevers during the first trimester of pregnancy can increase the risk of certain birth defects." the CDC wrote on its website. 

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