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Breastfeeding during the pandemic

Parenting a newborn has never been easy, but caring for a baby in a pandemic can be especially challenging. Common worries about whether a baby will sleep at night or take to breastfeeding are now accompanied by a new set of concerns for parents over how to keep their babies safe during these uncertain times.

Breastfeeding, in particular, is one area where many moms-to-be and mothers of newborns are seeking guidance. We asked Animesh Sabnis, MD, a pediatrician in the division of neonatology and developmental biology at UCLA Health, to weigh in on the safety of breastfeeding during the pandemic.

Is breastfeeding during a pandemic safe?

Breastfeeding continues to be encouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for women during the pandemic.

Can the virus be transmitted through breast milk?

We do not know for sure whether mothers with COVID-19 can spread the virus to babies through breast milk. Even with this uncertainty, we support the AAP’s position that breastfeeding is still the best choice for infant feeding.

How should I approach breastfeeding if I am COVID-19 positive?

If a breastfeeding mom has COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of the virus, it can still be safe to breastfeed their baby as long as they are careful about infection prevention. In fact, the AAP strongly encourages feeding breast milk to babies born to mothers with COVID-19 as breast milk has many health benefits for the baby.

If a mother is feeling well enough to care for her baby, the AAP suggests that mothers wear a mask while breastfeeding and wash hands before handling, holding, or breastfeeding. When not breastfeeding or directly caring for the baby, COVID-positive mothers should try to keep their distance from the baby, at least six feet if possible. Expressing milk through a breast pump is another safe way to provide breast milk to the baby.

For more information, visit FAQs: Management of Infants Born to Mothers with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19

When can I take care of my baby without a mask if I have COVID-19?

Mothers can care for their baby without wearing a mask or keeping their distance 10 days after they first felt ill and at least 24 hours after they have had no fever without using fever-reducing medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If they were never feeling ill, they should wait 10 days from their first positive viral test.

It’s also important to make sure that other members of the household wear masks and wash their hands before caring for the baby until their infection status can be verified.  

Finding breastfeeding support in a pandemic

Many first-time parents have a lot of questions about breastfeeding. It’s a unique experience for every mother and child, especially in a pandemic, where breastfeeding support looks a bit different. We asked two UCLA Health experts – Georgann Abraham, RN, a lactation consultant at UCLA Health – and Radhika Rible, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist at UCLA Health– to provide advice on the best ways to access breastfeeding support during the pandemic.  

How can women get the breastfeeding support they need?

The pandemic has changed how families can access certain breastfeeding resources, but breastfeeding support continues to be available to women during pregnancy, in the hospital and at home (through virtual resources). Many families have a lot of questions about breastfeeding and are encouraged to consult with their obstetrician prior to delivery, and with their inpatient team of nurses, physicians, and lactation consultants while at the hospital.

How can parents get the most support out of their hospital stay?

Even though patients are being discharged from the hospital earlier than in pre-pandemic times, lactation consultants are taking steps to ensure that patients are evaluated and assisted with breastfeeding concerns prior to discharge.

If a mother is struggling with breastfeeding, where can she get support?

While the traditional resources might not be available, families should ask their pediatrician or obstetrician for help. They can point you in the direction of the most appropriate resources for you.  At UCLA Health, for example, all breastfeeding patients are scheduled to receive a phone call at about two days after discharge. During this call, the lactation consultants ask how the patients are doing and answer any questions. Patients can also take advantage of a variety of telehealth offerings, such as virtual new mother and baby support group and online prenatal classes including childbirth education, breastfeeding and infant care.



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