According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) to a newborn occurs through respiratory droplets during the postnatal period when the baby is exposed to the mom or other caregivers infected with COVID-19.
There is limited information on possible transmission during pregnancy, birth, or the weeks before and after birth, and the extent thereof.
Symptoms of COVID-19 in babies
Current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 infections in a newborn is uncommon and if a baby is infected, most won’t show symptoms, or will have mild symptoms.
Signs of COVID-19 in a newborn include:
- A runny nose
- Abnormal fast breathing
- Poor feeding
- Diarrhoea and vomiting.
Testing a newborn for COVID-19
The CDC suggest that all babies born to a mother who has COVID-19 or is suspected to have the virus should be tested regardless of the presence or absence of symptoms. The test is done by a nasal or oral swab.
If mom and baby tests positive
Moms and babies who are suspected to have COVID-19 or who are COVID-19 positive should self-isolate/quarantine from other mothers and their babies whilst in hospital.
If you’re at home, you and your baby should isolate from other family members, though it is recommended that the entire family should quarantine for at least 10 days after first presentation of symptoms.
It is recommended that mom and baby isolate in the same room, commonly known as “rooming-in”, as it maintains bonding between mother and child and allows the mother to become acquainted with her baby’s feeding and nappy changing cues. Mom and baby should isolate for up to 10 days after symptoms first presented and up to 20 days if severe symptoms persist.
How to minimize the risk of transmission
A COVID-19 positive mother ‘rooming-in’ with her newborn should continue practicing strict handwashing/hand hygiene practices and wear a mask when in close contact or breastfeeding her baby.
*Use of a face mask or plastic shield on an infant or child up to the age of 2 years old is not recommended*
The great news is that breastfeeding can be continued if you have COVID-19 as there is no evidence for risk of transmission via breastmilk.
In a nutshell
- Self-quarantine or isolate with your baby (recommended that the entire family is quarantined).
- Continue breastfeeding, but wear your mask and practice strict hand hygiene before and after touching your baby.
- Do not give medication to a baby younger than 2 months of age unless medically advised.
- Monitor your and baby’s symptoms for severity (poor feeding, increasingly fussy, lethargy, and a persistent or increasing fever – seek medical attention)
- Lastly, my advice to all mom with a sick child, always trust your gut/motherly instinct.
More about the author:
Andrea Amos is a registered Child Critical Care (UCT) nurse and has worked at Tygerberg Hospital in the paediatric ICU for over 5 years. She is currently a second year (final) Master’s student in child nursing at the University of Cape Town.
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2020). Retrieved 7 November 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/caring-for-newborns.html
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