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Early years

01st Oct 2020

10 tips for breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic

Trine Jensen-Burke

breastfeeding during the Covid-19 pandemic

Today marks the start of National Breastfeeding Week 2020 here in Ireland.

Thankfully, breastfeeding rates in Ireland are slowly improving – but we still have some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe, and this week plays an important role in informing and educating mothers and families all across Ireland on breastfeeding and its many, many benefits.

For mums pregnant or breastfeeding this year, however, things have looked somewhat different, and many have felt isolated, worried and had questions about breastfeeding they might now have been able to get helped with or answers to.

What is important to remember is that breastfeeding is healthy for both yourself and your baby, and even in the middle of a global pandemic, efforts should be made to facilitate a mum’s ability to breastfeed.

Here are 10 tips from the HSE for breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. Breastfeeding is important for a baby’s development and health

Breastfeeding is good for babies. Breastmilk contains antibodies that can fight infection. While it’s still not clear if breastmilk protects babies from coronavirus, those who are breastfed are less likely to have severe respiratory symptoms when they get sick.

Breastfeeding is good for you too. Hormones released during breastfeeding promote wellness and can relieve stress and anxiety.

Breastmilk is readily available. No purchase necessary! This is handy instead of having to go to the shops to buy formula and other feeding supplies. It also means less to pack in your bag every time you go out with your baby.

2. Prepare for breastfeeding through online platforms before the birth of the baby

Although face-to-face classes have been cancelled during the pandemic, online ones may be available in your hospital. You’ll also find lots of videos and other advice on preparing to breastfeed at –

3. Continue to breastfeed while taking care with good personal hygiene

There is no evidence to date that the coronavirus transfers into breastmilk. So that means you can still breastfeed even if you have coronavirus.

If you’re feeling unwell and think you might have coronavirus, practice good hygiene during feeding.

The advice is to:

· Wear a face-covering during feeding

· Wash hands with soap before and after touching your baby

· Wipe and disinfect surfaces regularly

The main risk for the baby is being in close contact with someone diagnosed with coronavirus. If anyone is sick in the household, take extra care to protect your baby by practising the 3 Ws above.

4. Breastmilk helps a baby fight illness when their mother is unwell

Your body will produce immune factors (antibodies) in your breastmilk if you get coronavirus shortly before giving birth and begin breastfeeding, or if you become infected while breastfeeding. This protects your baby and enhances their own immune responses.

This means that continuing to breastfeed is the best way to fight the virus and protect your baby.

Breastfeeding is particularly effective against infectious diseases because it strengthens the immune system by directly transferring antibodies from the mother.

5. How to continue breastfeeding if you are too sick with COVID -19

It may be possible for a non-infected family member to feed your baby with expressed breast milk if you are too unwell to breastfeed directly.

All caregivers should wash their hands before touching bottles or feeding your baby and breast pump and attachments should be thoroughly cleaned after each use. Hand expressing breast milk is helpful in the first few days after your baby is born to get the milk supply going. Frequent pumping should be similar to your baby’s feeding demands, at least 8 to 10 times in a 24-hour period.

Most medications are safe to take while breastfeeding, but always check with your doctor first. Do not hesitate to ask for help from your midwife, public health nurse, breastfeeding support group volunteer or lactation consultant with getting your baby to latch (attach) on again once you restart breastfeeding directly from the breast.

6. Continue to seek support from maternity, public health nursing services, community breastfeeding support groups and lactation consultants

It is important to stay connected with others who can help you on your breastfeeding journey. Maternity hospitals and public health nurses provide face to face, virtual and phone support after your baby is born. Breastfeeding support groups meetings are being held through virtual and social media platforms.

Find details of groups in your area on

breastfeeding during the Covid-19 pandemic

7. Ask our expert service

Have you a breastfeeding question? The HSE’s ‘Ask our breastfeeding expert’ service is available for free on  Talk to lactation consultants online for information and advice on any part of breastfeeding by email or live chat. The live chat service is available from Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm.

8. Safe sleep for your baby if you are diagnosed with COVID-19

If you decide to keep your baby in the same room, try to keep their cot at a reasonable distance away from your bed. Wear a mask and wash your hands whenever you directly care for your baby.

Continue taking these precautions until:

· you have been fever-free for 24 hours without taking any fever medicines

· at least 10 days have passed since your coronavirus symptoms first started; and

· all your symptoms have improved

If you tested positive but have no symptoms, keep doing the above until at least 10 days after the date you had your swab test.

9. Keeping your baby close – skin to skin contact

Keeping your baby close and responding to their needs for food, love and comfort are all essential for your baby’s health and development. During skin-to-skin contact, you and your baby will produce a hormone called oxytocin. This helps you feel close to your baby.

If you develop symptoms of coronavirus you should:

· wear a face covering

· wash your hands before and after handling your baby and

· follow advice from healthcare professionals on how to prevent passing it on to your baby

You can remove the face covering to interact with your baby visually at a safe distance. Parents who are feeling well are encouraged to practice direct skin to skin contact regularly with their newborn baby.

10. It takes a village

While breastfeeding is a personal relationship between a mother and a baby, we can all take steps to support them. Partners, families, health services, employers and communities all play a vital role in creating a wider support network to help mothers to choose to breastfeed for as long as they wish.

National Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1st to 7th October. To join the HSE parenting and breastfeeding community, see the HSE Facebook page and hse_mychild on Instagram #hsemychild #breastfeeding #breastfeedingweek