With August being National Breastfeeding Month, the Women and Infants Center at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital Breese is reminding new and expectant mothers about the importance of breastfeeding, even in this time of coronavirus (COVID-19). World Breastfeeding Week was also celebrated at the hospital August 1-7. Each breastfeeding mom delivering during this timeframe received a gift basket of breastfeeding-related items from the Women and Infants Center.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that breastfeeding is supposed to work almost like a newborn’s first vaccine, providing vital antibodies and an immunity boost through the mother’s milk. According the U.S. Surgeon General, 75% of mothers breastfeed their newborns, but the number of infants who are still breastfed exclusively drops to 13% by the time they are six months old. Studies show that babies who are not breastfed exclusively for the first six months are more likely to develop allergies, childhood obesity, colds, flus, ear infections and more.
Breastfeeding and COVID-19
Mothers understandably may have concerns about breastfeeding in this time of COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while we can’t be certain at this time whether mothers with COVID-19 can transmit the virus via breast milk, the limited data available suggest this is not likely. The CDC recommends that whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding should be determined by the mother in coordination with her family and health care providers.
If you are breastfeeding and have symptoms of or confirmed COVID-19, the CDC recommends taking the following steps to avoid spreading the virus to your baby:
- Wash your hands before touching your baby.
- Wear a cloth face covering, if possible, while feeding at the breast or pumping.
- Wash your hands before touching pump or bottle parts and clean all parts after each use.
The WHO agrees with the CDC that following infection prevention and control measures is essential to prevent contact transmission between COVID-19 suspected or confirmed mothers and their newborns and young infants. In a recent scientific brief, the WHO recommends that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be encouraged to initiate or continue to breastfeed. Their study outlines that the risk of COVID-19 infection is low in infants, the infection is typically mild or asymptomatic, while the consequences of not breastfeeding and separation between mother and child can be significant. Per their study, 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. The WHO also recommends that a mother with confirmed COVID-19 should be counseled to take precautions to avoid spreading the virus to her infant, including handwashing and wearing a cloth face covering.
“Breastfeeding is so important to an infant, whether a mother chooses to breastfeed by the breast or pumping breast milk, because it provides protection against many illnesses, while also encouraging bonding between mother and baby,” said Brenda Lappe, RN and lactation consultant. “If mothers are concerned about COVID but still want to breastfeed, it can still be very safely done by following the CDC guidelines of washing their hands and wearing a mask while their baby is breastfeeding.”
The normal and natural food for a newborn baby is breast milk. Their need for breast milk continues as they grow. The following are a few benefits of breastfeeding:
- Breast milk is liquid gold. Colostrum, known as liquid gold, is the thick yellow breast milk that mothers make during pregnancy and just after birth. This milk is very rich in nutrients and antibodies to protect your baby. Although your baby only gets a small amount of colostrum at each feeding, it matches the amount his or her stomach can hold.
- Breast milk changes as your baby grows. Colostrum changes into what is called mature milk. By the third to fifth day after birth, this mature breast milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein to help your baby continue to grow. It is a thinner type of milk than colostrum, but it provides all the nutrients and antibodies your baby needs.
- Breast milk is easier to digest. For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula. The proteins in formula are made from cow’s milk and it takes time for babies’ stomachs to adjust to digesting them.
- Breast milk fights disease. The cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk protect babies from illness. In fact, among formula-fed babies, ear infections and diarrhea are more common. Formula-fed babies also have higher risks of lower respiratory infections, asthma obesity, and type 2 diabetes
- Breastfeeding is beneficial to mothers as well. Mothers who breastfeed tend to lose their post-pregnancy weight faster, recover from childbirth faster, and are at a lower risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer.
For mothers needing additional support to be successful in their breastfeeding journey, the Women and Infants Center at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital Breese offers a breastfeeding education class. The next class will be held:
- December 8 at 6:30 p.m. at HSHS Holy Family Hospital, 200 Health Care Drive, Greenville.
Sign up for either of these classes at https://stjoebreese.com/Events-Classes
HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospitals in Breese and Highland and HSHS Holy Family in Greenville also offer support and education to mothers through an online Breastfeeding Support Group through Facebook. Those interested in joining this online Breastfeeding Support Group need to have a Facebook login and then search Facebook for “Breastfeeding Support Group: Southern Illinois” and request to join.
For more information about breastfeeding, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/