Your newborn is delicate and must be protected.
Your body knows this. And that is why you start producing breastmilk for your baby as soon as your placenta separates from the uterus.
This ensures that your baby continues to receive the same nourishment and protection that they received in the womb even in the outside world.
When you see your newborn for the first time, your first natural instinct is to take your baby and hold her/him close to your chest in an embrace.
Your baby’s response to this is to find your nipple and start suckling and drinking breastmilk because they know that their survival depends on this.
So, should you continue to follow your natural instincts and allow your baby to follow theirs during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Should you follow nature’s mechanism for keeping your baby safe and healthy by breastfeeding through the COVID-19 pandemic?
The answer is yes.
Is the virus present in breastmilk?
Although this is a new virus and we are still learning more and more about it every day, so far, the virus has not been found in breastmilk and breastfeeding is considered safe.
What can you do to protect your baby from COVID-19 infection?
- Strictly follow social distancing practices. Avoid meeting friends and relatives for the first three months after birth.
- Wash your hands every time you touch your baby.
- Wear a mask when you breastfeed.
- Wipe all surfaces around you with a 70% alcohol solution frequently.
How does breastmilk protect your baby from viral infections?
- Breastmilk is rich in antibodies. A specific antibody called Ig A is present in large amounts in breastmilk. Ig A coats the respiratory and the gastrointestinal tract and prevents harmful organisms from entering the body through these entry points.
- The immunoglobulins present in breastmilk specifically protect the baby against the organisms that are currently surrounding the baby. This is because the mother is exposed to the same organisms since she lives in the same environment. She therefore produces the immunoglobulins that can protect the baby from immediate danger and passes it on to her baby through her breastmilk.
- Breastmilk contains large molecules called mucins and immunoglobulins that trap viruses and bacteria and throw them out of the body before they can cause any infection.
- Scientists believe that substances like free fatty acids and interferon present in breastmilk have antiviral properties.
The presence of immunoglobulins – particularly Ig A in breastmilk – has attracted the attention of scientists looking for a cure for COVID-19. Medical researcher and human milk immunologist Rebecca Powell is leading this research and asking new mothers to donate their surplus milk at regular intervals to facilitate the discovery of a possible cure for COVID-19.
While breastmilk may or may not eventually show us a way to cure COVID-19, you must use this gift that you have for your baby and ensure that you protect your baby from infection.
What are the current recommendations on breastfeeding?
WHO currently strongly recommends breastfeeding in all infants – even those born to mothers with suspected, probable or confirmed COVID-19. Mothers with mild symptoms are advised to continue breastfeeding as usual while maintaining respiratory hygiene. Mothers with severe symptoms who are so unwell that they cannot feed their babies are advised to pump breastmilk so that a healthy caregiver can feed the baby.
The COVID-19 pandemic may be wreaking havoc everywhere, but if you are determined about and focused on exclusively breastfeeding your baby, you have an excellent chance of keeping your baby safe and healthy.
Dr. Debmita Dutta MBBS, MD
Dr. Debmita Dutta is a practicing doctor, a parenting consultant and the founder of the website WPA whatparentsask.com – She is based in Bangalore and conducts Parenting workshops at schools and corporate organizations. She also conducts prenatal classes for expecting parents and infant care classes for new parents.