Unfortunately, there is still so much that we don’t know about the novel coronavirus. However, here is what we do know and what the latest guidelines state regarding Covid-19 in pregnancy, breastfeeding and babies.
This article is for all the women who have to transition to motherhood in the middle of the biggest crisis of this century. Having a baby is already one of the biggest changes you will ever face. To do this with the dark cloud of fear and uncertainty that hangs over the world can’t be easy.
While we don’t much about the novel coronavirus yet, hopefully we can put your mind at ease with what we do know so far.
COVID-19 is a respiratory virus
Although we don’t fully understand this specific strain yet and still need lots of research and evidence, we know that it will most likely behave like other respiratory viruses in the same class.
Babies and children are less affected than grown-ups
Although the virus can infect babies and children, they seem to get less ill than grown-ups. This is good news to any parent and possibly one of the only rays of light of the pandemic. It’s not impossible for babies to get it though. Many professionals feel that they can be carriers of the virus and infect others, even if they do not get ill themselves. For these reasons you should protect your babies and young children with the same measures as the rest of the family.
Pregnancy doesn’t seem to be a risk factor
Although the immune system is generally suppressed in pregnancy, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) state that pregnant women do not appear to be more susceptible to the consequences of the virus than the general population. There is no evidence that it passes to the baby via the placenta.
You should do all that you can to breastfeed your baby
Breast milk plays an insignificant role in the transmission of respiratory viruses, so it is highly unlikely that your baby will get this virus via your milk. In fact, breast milk contains antibodies that may help to protect your baby from disease. For these reasons it remains the best feeding option for your baby.
An added benefit is that breastmilk is free and always available, and you don’t have to worry about it being sold out due to inconsiderate panic buying.
Of course, there is the added challenge that you may struggle to see a lactation consultant during the lock-down period should you experience problems with breastfeeding. Some consultants offer online consultations and telephonic assistance. There are also many valuable YouTube clips available to assist moms with positioning and latching.
What to do if you were exposed
Although you should self-isolate from other people it is not recommended to separate yourself from your baby. You should take the normal precautions like washing your hands frequently and not coughing or sneezing on baby. You can consider wearing a disposable mask when holding baby close to you. Chances are that if you were exposed, your baby is exposed already, if not to the original source then to you as the mother. It would be more beneficial for baby to encourage closeness and skin-to-skin contact. Not only will it boost breastfeeding, it can actually help to protect baby.
What to do if you are infected
If you start showing symptoms and/or are diagnosed with COVID-19 you should still keep baby close and continue breastfeeding. Be extra diligent with preventative measures though:
- Wash your hands well before touching baby or any baby equipment
- Try not to cough or sneeze on baby
- Wear a face mask if available.
If a mother is too sick to care for baby, she should try to keep on expressing breast milk for someone else to give to baby. That person should preferably feed baby with a syringe or feeding cup. If they really do not manage, they can use the method of paced bottle feeding to help prevent nipple confusion.
What is paced bottle feeding?
Paced bottle feeding is a method of bottle feeding that enables baby to have better control over the flow of milk. The milk flows more slowly, and whoever feeds baby learn to follow baby’s ques on when to take a break. Bottle feeding a baby who usually would feed from the breast can sometimes lead to baby getting used to the fast flow of milk from a bottle. This can lead to them getting frustrated on the breast and even refusing the breast.
- This is perhaps the hardest thing to do. Isolation measures may mean you don’t have the support at hand that you normally would have had, plus it’s not ideal for people to come and go, which can expose your family to someone infected.
- Try to have a female support person like a mother or sister who can stay with you for a few weeks to lend a hand. It may very well just be you and your partner though (especially now during lockdown), in which case you must make a point of communicating well and of sharing tasks.
- Be sure to still eat healthy and stay as active as possible. Budget a bit extra for ready-made meals to help make this possible.
- Limit the time you spend on social media and on the internet as this can cause more anxiety than it actually resolves. You probably know what you need to know already.
Focus on your new baby and making those adaptations, while filtering out all the noise from outside.
Christine Klynhans is a nursing sister and South African Certified Lactation Consultant (SACLC). She currently works at Parentwood Baby and Family Wellness Centre in Pretoria as a well-baby clinic sister and antenatal teacher. She also has a breastfeeding practice and a Breast Pump Demo Centre. She is passionate about supporting parents on the journey of pregnancy, breastfeeding and the early childhood years. Learn more about Christine Klynhans.