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Episode #51 - Breastfeeding & COVID-19

27 August 2021 | Science conversation

Summary

If you have COVID-19, is it safe to breastfeed your baby? Is it safe to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you are breastfeeding? How can you keep your baby safe while breastfeeding if you have COVID-19? Dr Laurence Grummer- Strawn explains in Science in 5.

Podcast

Transcript

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Is it safe to breastfeed if you have COVID-19? Is it safe to get vaccinated if you are breastfeeding? Hello and welcome to Science in 5. I'm Vismita Gupta-Smith and we're talking to Dr Laurence Grummer-Strawn about breastfeeding and COVID-19 today. Welcome, Laurence. Let's start with, is it safe for a mother to breastfeed if she has COVID-19?

Dr Laurence Grummer-Strawn

I'm sure that that mother is very concerned about her own health, as well as the health of her own baby. But it's really critical to understand that WHO not only says it's safe to breastfeed, but it is highly encouraged that she breastfeed her baby. We know that the breast milk itself is not a means of transmission of the virus to her baby. There are also concerns about just her own care of the baby and being so close to the baby that comes from that close contact during breastfeeding. And yet what we find is that, in fact, the transmission risk to that baby is very, very low. And in fact, if the baby were to get infected, babies typically have very mild cases of COVID, and so it's not a significant health risk. On the other hand, we have to weigh that against the loss of the benefits of breastfeeding. It's critically important that we also continue to protect that baby from many of the other diseases that they might get if they were not breastfed. And when we have done cost effectiveness analyses comparing, it's just so much more important the benefits of breastfeeding strongly outweigh the possible risks of transmission.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Laurence, describe to us what steps a mother should take if she has COVID-19 and is breastfeeding her baby.

Dr Laurence Grummer-Strawn

So that mother who has the baby and is breastfeeding, certainly wants to do what she can to protect her baby from that, even though it's a small risk. But from that risk of transmission and that could happen from close contact, and so we would recommend the same kinds of protections that she would have with other family members of wearing a mask when she's around them, washing her hands frequently, if she doesn't have access to safe, clean water for washing then to use alcohol based wipes and such. And so to continue to have contact, because it's important that the baby have contact with the mother, but that she have those kinds of just basic precautions against transmission. 

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Laurence, is it safe for a breastfeeding mother to get vaccinated?

Dr Laurence Grummer-Strawn

So based on all the evidence that we have, it is not only safe for breastfeeding mothers to be vaccinated, but it is also highly recommended. It is important for her own health that she be protected from COVID and that she's able to take care of her family as best as possible and doesn't get too sick. There is no evidence that the vaccine would allow for the virus to be transmitted to the child. And there is no reason that the vaccine would be any less effective in a breastfeeding mother than in a non breastfeeding mother. We would definitely recommend that she should be vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available to her to protect her and the community around her. 

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Laurence, speak to us, please, about these benefits of breastfeeding and also about WHO's recommendations on breastfeeding.

Dr Laurence Grummer-Strawn

So WHO recommends that women start breastfeeding in the first hour of life, so immediately at the time of birth. And that she continue breastfeeding for two years or beyond, as much as is desirable for her and for her baby. In the first six months, we recommend that that baby not be fed anything except breast milk. So she should continue the breastfeeding only at the breast during that first six months and then after the first six months introducing complementary foods. Now, the reasons for that are that there are so many health benefits to breastfeeding for the breastfed child in terms of protection against infectious diseases such as diarrhea or respiratory infections. But also there are long term impacts, even after breastfeeding has stopped protecting that baby against the development of childhood overweight and obesity, protection against SIDS and leukemia. So long term benefits to the child. And finally, the mother herself benefits from breastfeeding in terms of her protection against breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes. So there are benefits to both the mother and the baby.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Thank you, Laurence. That was Science in 5 today. Until next time then. Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.

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