Canada’s top doctor says new mothers should still breastfeed even if they have COVID-19.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam marked World Breastfeeding Awareness Week in a statement Wednesday (Aug, 7). She said there little evidence the virus is spread from mothers to babies through breastfeeding.
“Breastfeeding continues to be recommended, whenever possible, as the best way to feed infants, owing to its many well-documented health benefits,” said Tam. “As well, breastfeeding offers the greatest protection against infection and illness throughout infancy and childhood.”
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 among children are rare in B.C. Just 78 children under the age of 10 have been infected by the virus out of the 3,881 total cases in the province through Aug. 7, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).
A scientific brief released in June by the World Health Organization that attempted to determine whether the virus could be transmitted through breastfeeding was inconclusive.
“At this point it appears that COVID-19 in infants and children represents a much lower threat to survival and health than other infections that breastfeeding is protective against. … Based on available evidence, WHO recommendations on the initiation and continued breastfeeding of infants and young children also apply to mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.”
Tam said parents who are symptomatic or concerned about possible exposure should practise frequent hand washing, wear a non-medical face mask when close to the baby, and cover their own coughs and sneezes.
“Breastfeeding is a skill that mothers and infants learn together and support during the first few weeks is important …,” said Tam. “I encourage families and friends to reach out to support the new parents around them. And I encourage breastfeeding parents to seek help when they need it.”
Perinatal Services BC recommends parents also wash and disinfect all infant feeding supplies after each use, limit the number of people who feed the baby and to avoid putting face coverings on infants.