Breast milk is one of the best things parents can feed their little ones to give them a healthy start. It’s easy to digest, strengthens the immune system, prevents illness, and reduces the risk of obesity.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has created concerns for some parents, who worry about passing the virus to a newborn through milk. Physicians stress that parents can safely feed human milk to infants during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it’s through breastfeeding or by putting pumped milk in a bottle.
Maria Wright, MD, a pediatrician at the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center, shared proactive steps you can take to protect your health and that of your baby.
Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters
People who are pregnant or have recently been pregnant are at increased risk for getting very sick from COVID-19. Vaccination (including getting a booster shot when you are eligible) is one of the most powerful ways you can protect yourself. You don’t need to delay or stop breastfeeding after getting vaccinated. In fact, research shows that people who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 have antibodies in their milk that could help protect their babies.
Get infants 6 months and older vaccinated for COVID-19
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for everyone 6 months and older. Vaccination is recommended even if the baby’s mother was vaccinated or had a COVID-19 infection before or during pregnancy.
Take additional precautions
Even if you are fully vaccinated, follow these steps to keep yourself and your baby safe:
Wear a mask in public indoor settings in communities where the level of COVID-19 cases is high.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Test at the first sign of COVID-19 symptoms. In most cases, home antigen tests are a quick and easy way to find out whether you have COVID-19. But, in some cases, you may need an in-person PCR test.
Safety measures for parents with COVID-19
If you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, it’s still possible to give your baby the benefits of human milk. Current evidence suggests that your milk is not likely to spread the virus to babies. If you have an active coronavirus infection, follow these preventive measures (in addition to the hygiene tips above):
Wash your hands before touching or feeding your baby, pumping milk, or handling a breast pump or baby bottle.
Wear a mask while pumping or feeding, or whenever you are within 6 feet of your baby.
Use your own breast pump (not a shared pump).
Clean the breast pump thoroughly after each use by washing all parts that come into contact with milk.
Consider having a healthy partner or caregiver feed your pumped milk to the baby.
By taking these important safety precautions, you can give your baby the benefits of human milk while still keeping him or her healthy during the pandemic.
Learn more about COVID-19 during and after pregnancy.