23rd October 2020

The importance of breastfeeding even in cases of suspected or confirmed COVID-19

Breastfeeding plays an essential role in infant and young child survival, nutrition and development. To date, the vertical transmission of COVID-19 through breast milk has not been proven – therefore, the benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks for transmission.

Breast milk is tailor-made for babies. It provides not only the perfect combination of vitamins and nutrients and reduces the risk of developing diabetes, among other things, in the course of life, but it also contains important antibodies that protect the child from infections. These infections could be much more dangerous for the baby than the COVID-19 infection, which is typically very mild or asymptomatic in children. This is not the only reason why breastfeeding should continue, however, as there also the positive effects of skin-to-skin contact for both mother and baby, and the fact that breastfeeding leads to significantly lower mortality and morbidity in children.

Since the consequences of not breastfeeding represent a higher overall health risk than the risk of COVID-19 infection, the WHO recommends that mothers with COVID-19 infection continue and that non-nursing mothers initiate breastfeeding as it prevents infections and is beneficial to health.

Appropriate hygiene precautions should be taken to limit the opportunity for spread of COVID-19 infection:

  • Wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before touching the baby.
  • Avoid coughing on the baby or use a mask during breastfeeding.
  • Regular surface disinfection.
  • Avoid falling asleep with the baby on your arm.

If you have been expressing milk, it may be easier to return to breastfeeding or ask someone else to bottle-feed your baby in case you are feeling unwell.

For further information on this subject, visit www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/breastfeeding-and-covid-19