Copenhagen, Denmark | Xinhua | The virus that causes COVID-19 has not been detected in breast milk and breastfeeding does not need to be discontinued during COVID-19 infection nor following vaccination of the mother, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe said on Wednesday.
The latest finding, although based on a “limited number of studies,” has made the WHO confident that mothers are safe to carry on breastfeeding their infants, even if a mother develops COVID-19, as long as they take the recommended precautions.
“As a mother who breastfed all three of my children, I know first-hand that breast milk is one of the best sources of nutrition for infants, including infants whose mothers have confirmed or suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection,” said Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, Health Policy Director at WHO Europe, in a press release.
“As long as an infected mother takes appropriate precautions, she can breastfeed her baby,” she noted.
WHO’s current guidance of the precautions includes practicing respiratory hygiene during feeding — including wearing a mask, or covering mouth and nose, washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after touching the baby, and routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces one has touched.
In addition, the studies also found that vaccinating a breastfeeding mother to protect her from COVID-19 posed no risk to a breastfeeding infant.
“Breastfeeding mothers who have received the COVID-19 vaccine have antibodies in their milk, which could even help to protect their babies from infection with the virus,” said the press release.
The latest findings have been released to mark the World Breastfeeding Week that runs from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7.
As part of the week, WHO Europe is also urging breastfeeding women to get vaccinated when it is their turn and discourages mothers from discontinuing breastfeeding just because of a vaccination.
“Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival, including providing antibodies and protection,” said the press release.
Currently, only 13 percent of infants in the WHO European Region (comprising 53 countries) are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, the lowest in all the WHO regions. Meanwhile, only one-third of the adult population in the region has completed their full vaccination, as the Delta variant becomes dominant in the region, according to statistics from WHO Europe.
“The benefits of breastfeeding and nurturing mother-infant interaction to prevent infection and promote health and development are especially important when health and other community services are disrupted or limited because of the pandemic,” said Muscat.