July 19, 2021

Breastfeeding safety during COVID-19

How to give your baby the health benefits of breast milk during a pandemic.

Breastfeeding is one of the best things moms can do to give their little ones a healthy start. Breast milk is easy to digest, strengthens the immune system, prevents illness, and reduces the risk of obesity.

Breastfeeding doesn’t always come easily, though, and it can take time for both mom and baby to master this new skill. The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges.

Physicians stress that mothers can safely start and maintain breastfeeding during the pandemic. Elena Martinez, MD, an ob-gyn at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, recommends that all breastfeeding moms take these proactive steps to protect their health and that of their babies:

  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19. People who are pregnant or have recently been pregnant are more likely than non-pregnant people to get very sick with COVID-19, and the COVID-19 vaccines are not thought to be a risk to breastfeeding people or their babies.
  • If you haven’t been vaccinated, wear a face covering in public at all times. If you are fully vaccinated, it remains important to wear a mask if you are indoors in high-risk areas such as health care settings and public transportation, or while traveling.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Disinfect surfaces regularly, especially those you have touched.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue. Dispose of it right away, and then wash your hands.

Additional precautions for mothers with COVID-19

Even if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, it is possible to give your baby the benefits of breast milk. Current evidence suggests that breast milk is not likely to spread the virus to babies. If you have concerns, discuss the decision with your family and your health care provider.

According to Maria Wright, MD, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, “One option is to express milk for your baby using a breast pump and have someone else who is COVID-19-free feed the milk to the baby. If you choose to breastfeed directly, you should wear a mask while nursing to help keep your baby safe. Be sure to use a medical-grade mask, which you can find at a grocery store or pharmacy.”

In addition to the hygiene tips listed above, Dr. Wright recommends the following additional measures for moms who have COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before touching your baby, breastfeeding, pumping milk, or handling the breast pump.
  • While it’s not necessary to wash your breasts before expressing milk or breastfeeding, if you have recently coughed or sneezed, be sure to clean your hands and any affected areas for 20 seconds with soap and warm water.
  • Clean all breast pump parts thoroughly with soap and water, and then rinse them with hot water for 5 to 10 seconds.

“By taking these important safety precautions,” said Dr. Martinez, “you can bond with your baby while keeping him or her healthy during this special time.”

Learn more about breastfeeding safety during COVID-19.