As cases of coronavirus increase around the world, concerned parents naturally want to know if it is safe to continue breastfeeding or to choose to breastfeed when a baby is born. Several news sources and international guidelines in the US and UK have addressed this question. So, what does the evidence say so far?

As of March 2020, it is highly likely that breastfeeding is safe to start and continue, as there is no evidence to suggest that the virus is found in breastmilk. A lack of evidence of harm is not proof that something is completely safe, but the trusted sources we have identified say that babies of mums with COVID-19 can still choose to breastfeed if they take precautions to reduce the chance of droplet infection.

Larger studies would be helpful to confirm the findings in the small number of pregnant women studied so far.

 

Where did the story come from?

Many news articles have covered the risks of coronavirus in pregnancy, questioning whether pregnant women are at greater risk of catching the disease or being more severely affected and whether breastfeeding is safe for the babies of mothers with the infection.

 

What is the basis for the claim?

A recent study followed nine pregnant women from Wuhan in their third trimesters who had COVID-19. The researchers tested the breastmilk amongst other things such as cord blood and swabbed the babies’ throats when they were born. All these samples tested negative for the virus.

One newborn has been reported to have been infected with coronavirus within a day of being born to an infected mother. However, it is not clear whether this infection was transmitted before birth, through breast milk, or might have been passed on afterwards.

These initial findings suggest that the virus is unlikely to be passed from infected pregnant women to their babies through breastmilk. However, feeding at the breast does involve close contact, so this does carry the risk of mothers passing on the infection to the infant in this way.

The numbers of pregnant women in these studies were relatively low. Guidance from the trusted sources will be updated as more research clarifies this issue.

 

What do trusted sources say?

UK guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG) says that women with coronavirus can breastfeed. It says that there is no evidence showing that the virus can be carried in breastmilk, and the well-recognised benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risks of transmission of coronavirus through breastmilk.

The guidance says that the main risk for babies being breastfed by mothers with COVID-19 is that the close contact could allow droplet transmission once the baby is born, and they outline measures to reduce this risk. This guidance will be kept under regular review as new evidence emerges.

Guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that in limited studies on women with COVID-19 and other coronavirus infections such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), the virus has not been detected in breast milk. They also suggest that whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding should be decided by the mother along with her family and healthcare providers.

Analysis by EIU Healthcare, supported by Reckitt Benckiser

 

Citations

  1. Coronavirus with a baby: Can I breastfeed while infected with COVID-19? Online March 13, 2020. Available at: https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/1255041/Coronavirus-babies-newborns-breastfeed-safe-infected-coronavirus-covid-19 (Accessed 23 March 2020)

 

Reading list

 

  1. Chen H et al. Clinical characteristics and intrauterine vertical transmission potential of COVID-19 infection in nine pregnant women: a retrospective review of medical records. The Lancet 2020; 395 (10226): 809-815. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30360-3

 

  1. RCOG, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland. Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection and pregnancy. COVID-19 virus infection and pregnancy. March 13, 2020. https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/ (Accessed 23 March 2020)

 

  1. US CDC. Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Information about Coronavirus Disease 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html? (Accessed 23 March 2020)