5 tips from a dietician to navigate breastfeeding during a pandemic

At the launch of Breastfeeding Week today, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize encouraged moms who are COVID-19 positive to continue breastfeeding as research have shown that the virus has not been found in breast milk, and it can also not be transmitted through breast milk.

ALSO SEE: COVID-19 can’t be transmitted through breast milk

The benefits of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding from birth supports the healthy development of babies and plays an important role in prevention of all forms of childhood malnutrition including wasting, stunting, obesity and underweight and micronutrient deficiencies.  Breast milk also protects against many infections including COVID-19.

At a time when many South African families are facing serious food shortages, breast milk provides complete food security for babies under 6 months, and boosts nutrition and health for other young ones.

ALSO SEE: 15 things you didn’t know about breastfeeding

Safe breastfeeding during COVID-19

Lisanne du Plessis, Associate Professor at Stellenbosch University and Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson, has these tips for breastfeeding moms during the pandemic:

  1. Breastfeed on demand, whenever your baby wants to breastfeed, day and night.
  2. Breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. Breast milk provides all the food and water your baby needs during this time. Breast milk also protects your baby against sickness or infection.
  3. Don’t give your baby any other food or liquids while breastfeeding during the first 6 months – not even water. Even during very hot weather, breast milk will satisfy your baby’s thirst.
  4. Giving babies under 6 months anything other than breast milk will cause them to suckle less, which will reduce the amount of breastmilk you produce and may make your baby sick.
  5. Practice hygienic measures to protect yourself and your little one against COVID-19 and other harmful bacteria and viruses in our environments.

What precautions should a COVID-19 positive mom take when breastfeeding?

The World Health Organization (WHO) provides the following breastfeeding guidelines if you suspect, or if you know you have COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol-based sanitizer – especially before touching your baby.
  • Wear a medical mask during any contact with your baby, even during feeding times.
  • Sneeze or cough into a tissue. Then dispose of it immediately and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds again.
  • Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces that you have touched.

What if I’m too sick to breastfeed?

Registered dietitian and ADSA spokesperson Andiswa Ngqaka has this advice for moms who are too ill with COVID-19 to continue breastfeeding their baby:

  • Try to express your breast milk for your baby and give it with a clean cup or a spoon and cup. Expressing breast milk is important to sustain your milk production so that you can carry on breastfeeding when you recover.
  • If you can’t express your breast milk, you can consider donor human milk.
  • Wet nursing is another option if culturally acceptable to you.
  • Your last option would be to provide a breast milk substitute.
  • Reunite with your baby as soon as your recover.
  • Get support if you need help re-lactating and bonding with your baby.

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