'It carries no risk': Local dietitian dispels Covid-19 myths around breastfeeding

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Breast is still best. (Supplied/liquidlingo Communications)
Breast is still best. (Supplied/liquidlingo Communications)

Since the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, tried and tested methods of caring for newborns have undergone a period of uncertainty and disruption, none more so than breastfeeding. 

But with studies showing no evidence of Covid-19 transmission through breast milk, health authorities are once again encouraging mothers to breastfeed their newborns exclusively for the first six months. 

"The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF have emphasised more than ever, that breastfeeding carries no additional risk of transmission," says registered dietitian Dr Chantell Witten. 

An Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson, Dr Witten, confirms that even Covid-positive moms have been given the green light to breastfeed their newborns as long as they follow the recommended safety precautions. 

This includes wearing a mask while feeding and handling your baby, washing hands before and after touching your baby, sneezing and coughing into the elbow or a disposable tissue, and self-isolating. 

Moms physically unable to breastfeed are advised to only use formula "if there is no other alternative to breast milk." 

"In the absence of expressed breast milk, donor milk from a trusted source like a family member, then the next best option is infant formula."

'Breast milk offers the best protection' 

Explaining why experts are so confident in their recommendations for breastfeeding, Dr Witten says this is due to the "unique anti-infective properties" present in breast milk which are both "anti-bacterial and anti-viral".

"Breast milk offers the best protection because antibodies from the mother will be given through the breast milk to the baby." 

Dr Witten says that, now more than ever, moms must follow the standards of exclusive breastfeeding, which means giving your baby no other food or liquid, not even water for the first six months of their lives. 

As for a breastfeeding mom's diet, Dr Witten recommends including a variety of food such as "meats, vegetables and fruits and to drink enough fluids like water, milk and teas". 

As far as what to avoid, the ADSA spokesperson says to steer clear of known food sensitivities or allergies. 

What about foods for increasing breast milk production? 

Dr Witten says, apart from keeping as healthy a diet as possible, there are no foods to either avoid or add to your daily meals that could increase breast milk production.

On the other hand, stimulating breast milk production after being too ill is possible. 

"With the support of a skilled health practitioner like a dietitian, nurse, lactation consultant or doula, mothers can relactate." 

She advises that moms can expect to practise skin-to-skin contact and expressing with a pump. 

"Keeping baby skin-to-skin for at least 2-3 hour intervals, putting the baby frequently to the breast, and expressing breast milk will stimulate breast milk production." 

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