The ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is a frightening experience for you as well as the healthcare community globally due to the widespread uncertainty about many aspects of the novel coronavirus (a strain of virus). It has become amply clear that COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease and may cause multisystem failure and mortality. However, there is insufficient data regarding the transmission of this virus from mother to foetus during pregnancy and lactation.1
The inadequate information and deep concerns for the health of their newborn can cause stress among new mothers and caretakers of a newborn. This article is for all those who are facing this uncertainty and trying to take care of their crying newborn while maintaining social distancing norms.
First things first; as soon as a baby is born, kangaroo mother care (KMC) is advised for the baby.
What is kangaroo mother care? Is it possible to provide it?
Kangaroo mother care is the skin-to-skin contact between the baby and mother or any other family member soon after birth. With this, the baby’s body temperature is maintained by using minimum energy. Regardless of COVID-19 status, you should provide KMC to the baby. Mothers should never be separated from their newborns unless they cannot look after the baby due to severe sickness. When mothers are sick and cannot provide care to the baby, another family member should be identified to care for the baby.2
As per the World Health Organization (WHO), if you are a new mom, you should maintain skin-to-skin contact with your baby, even in case of low-birth-weight or preterm baby.2 However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contradicts this and suggests that the separation of the mother from the newborn may be mandatory in cases where the newborn is at high risk, such as a preterm baby, babies needing extra care, and those with underlying diseases.3 Your paediatrician is the best judge on this and will be able to advise you the best thing in your particular case. Talk it out with them.
How to protect your newborn once you are back home after delivery?
Although you must be excited to introduce your little one to other family members, social distancing is the most efficient strategy to keep your baby safe. It is best to keep people who are not staying with you away from your baby until the pandemic ends. Also, maintain a safe distance between your baby and family members who remain at home but are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. This member should be kept isolated from the newborn for safety reasons. All family members who come in contact with your baby should take special care and wash their hands each time before touching the baby.4
It is not very easy to maintain social distancing, but it is possible if safety is your ultimate goal for your baby. You can introduce your baby to friends and relatives using social media or video calling applications such as Zoom or Skype.4
Can you breastfeed if you are COVID-19 positive?
Absolutely! Breastfeeding does not transmit coronavirus.4 A recent study found that 82 babies born to COVID-19–positive mothers and were breastfed tested negative at 24 hours and five to seven days after birth.5 Newborns are at low risk of acquiring this infection, and those who do, get very mild or no symptoms. This virus is not detected in mothers’ milk even when they are COVID-19–positive.2 Thus, the transmission of coronavirus from the mother to baby is unlikely to happen if appropriate hygiene and other precautionary measures are followed.5 According to WHO, infants who are separated from their mothers will have a death rate at least 60 times higher than the death rate from COVID-19.2 So do not hold back on breastfeeding!
How to ensure the safety of your baby-
– if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms OR
– if you are awaiting your COVID-19 test reports OR
– if you tested positive for COVID-19?
It is not easy to keep a mom away from her newborn baby, especially when the baby needs breastfeeding. Now that it is clear that breastfeeding does not cause transmission of this virus, and only respiratory droplets are responsible for causing the spread of disease, you can breastfeed your baby.4
If you are a new mother experiencing symptoms or have already tested positive for COVID-19, you should take the below-given precautions:
- Wash your hands before touching your baby every single time.
- Wear a face mask while you are feeding your baby.4 However, even if you do not have a mask, continue breastfeeding as the benefits outweigh the potential risks.2
- Clean your breasts with water and soap before feeding if you have cough as a symptom. However, you do not need to clean each time before you feed.2
- If you are hand-expressing milk or using a pump, wash your hands before touching your breast or any parts of the pump or milk bottles. Allow someone who does not have COVID-19 symptoms to feed the baby.4
- Clean and disinfect all the surfaces and objects that you touch.2
If you have any questions or are unsure of something, remember that you are not alone. Although social distancing norms are to be maintained for safety, you can always reach out to your near and dear ones through calls and messages. If you need any health-related guidance, do not forget to contact your paediatrician. Your paediatrician is the best source for understanding what you and your baby need.6
Besides, you can always reach out to other new mothers in the community or via social media groups. You can also look for a discussion forum or communities of new mothers where they openly share experiences.6 However, never forget to maintain a safe distance and follow COVID-19 norms.
Keep distance and stay safe!
- Shinwell ES. Newborn care during the COVID-19 pandemic must adapt as evidence accumulates. Acta Paediatr. 2020 Dec;109(12):2440–2441.
- World Health Organization. What we know about breastfeeding and newborn care in the context of COVID-19 [Internet] [Updated Oct 12, 2020]. Available at: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/risk-comms-updates/update-38. Accessed on Jan 1, 2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Evaluation and management considerations for neonates at risk for COVID-19 [Internet] [Updated Dec 8, 2020]. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/caring-for-newborns.html#:~:text=If%20the%20neonate%20remains%20in,all%20contact%20with%20their%20neonates. Accessed on Jan 1, 2021.
- Mayo Clinic. Caring for newborns during the COVID-19 pandemic [Internet]. Available at: https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/featured-topic/caring-for-newborns-during-the-covid-19-pandemic. Accessed on Jan 1, 2021.
- Salvatore CM, Han J-Y, Acker KP, Tiwari P, Jin J, Brandler M, et al. Neonatal management and outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic: an observation cohort study. Lancet Child Adolesc Health. 2020 Oct;4(10):721–727.
- Healthychildren.org. Tips for coping with a new baby during COVID-19 [Internet] [Updated Jun 16, 2020]. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Tips-for-Coping-with-a-New-Baby-During-COVID-19.aspx. Accessed on Jan 1, 2021.