WHO encourages mothers to breastfeed even if infected with Covid-19

WHO encourages mothers to breastfeed even if infected with Covid-19.
WHO encourages mothers to breastfeed even if infected with Covid-19.
Getty Images/LWA/Dann Tardif

It’s World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) from the 1 to 7 August. It is described as the greatest outreach vehicle for the breastfeeding movement and it is commemorated in over 120 countries.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, a constantly changing virus, it presents an added worry to expectant mothers, or new mothers, on the safety and risks surrounding breastfeeding during this time.

Read more | Coronavirus while pregnant or giving birth: here’s what you need to know

This year, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, a global network of individuals and organisations dedicated to the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding, stated that awareness for the year is centred on the impact of infant feeding on the environment and the imperative to protect, promote and support breastfeeding for the health of the planet and its people. 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, in a news conference on Monday, said that they had carefully investigated the risks of women transmitting Covid-19 to their babies during breastfeeding.

“We know that children are at relatively low risk of Covid-19, but are at high risk of numerous other diseases and conditions that breastfeeding prevents,” Ghebreyesus told a news conference.

“Based on the available evidence, WHO’s advice is that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risks of transmission of Covid-19,” he said.

Read more | ’I gave birth at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic – this is how motherhood has been for me so far’

Added to this, Anshu Banerjee, a senior advisor in WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research, echoed the director’s sentiments and said that only “fragments” of the virus had been detected in breast milk, and not the live coronavirus.

“So far we have not been able to detect live virus in breast milk,” he said. “So the risk of transmission from mother to child so far has not been established.”

Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, in a virtual commemoration of this week, reiterated the WHO’s statements and assured mothers of the safety of breastfeeding during this time.

“I can assure you that the Covid-19 virus has not been found in breastmilk and research evidence has shown that the virus is not transmitted through breast milk or by giving breast milk that has been expressed from a mother who is confirmed/ suspected to have Covid-19,” he said.

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Mkhize said that academic experts in South Africa have established a pregnancy register to evaluate potential harm to pregnant women and/or their babies caused by Covid-19 infection and that excellent progress has been made.

“Based on these studies, mothers who have suspected or confirmed Covid-19 are encouraged to continue breastfeeding while practicing good respiratory hygiene which includes the wearing of a mask, washing their hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitizer and routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.”

“A baby’s immune system is not yet fully developed and requires the immune protection from breast milk. This life saving protection is more important than ever right now during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mkhize said.

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