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Breastfeeding in a COVID-19 world

Breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic

Here at the Bub Hub we’ve always made it our aim to provide sensible, practical and up-to-date advice to parents and parents-to-be so they can make informed decisions when it comes to fertility, pregnancy, and raising children.

Now, more than ever before, parents need a clear voice amid the confusion. And with that in mind, we’ve consulted a range of experts to discuss the only thing many of us are thinking about at the moment — the coronavirus or COVID-19.

This week — World Breastfeeding Week — we speak to Adjunct Associate Professor Karleen Gribble from the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Western Sydney University about coronavirus and breastfeeding.

A growing number of mothers are attempting to breastfeed exclusively and for longer during the COVID-19 pandemic according to a survey conducted by the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA).

The ABA has also reported an increase in the number of inquiries made by mothers wanting to start breastfeeding again after stopping, or not starting at birth.

Associate Professor Gribble says the survey shows that in April the ABA had up to 1000 additional calls to the National Breastfeeding helpline and an increase in the number of people contacting them via their live chat service.

“When you have a baby, you’re meant to have people around you to provide support. During the COVID-19 pandemic, new mums are being deprived of contact with health professionals, friends and family, and even their own mothers,” she says.

She says news mums were either unable to access services or were worried about contracting the virus.

“They weren’t able to, or they weren’t willing to, see a doctor in person or a Child Health Nurse. Many were too anxious about actually going out and being exposed potentially to COVID-19 in the community.”

Professor Gribble says heightened concerns about the wellbeing of their babies has also played a part in the increase of breastfeeding during the pandemic.

“Mums are concerned about contracting the virus, and are considering breastfeeding as a means of boosting their overall health and immunity,” she says.

“They are also concerned about the availability of formula, and are considering the practical value of breastfeeding while they are in lockdown.”

Professor Gribble says new mothers are also contacting the ABA because they’re worried about the possibility of transmitting the virus to their babies

“They’re also wanting to know if it is still safe to breastfeed and the answer is, yes absolutely it is still safe to breastfeed!,” she says.

“What we now know from some of the research that’s being conducted, it looks like there’s antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in breast milk, so it has the potential there to actively fight infection.”

Professor Gribble says it really is an extraordinary difficult time for new mothers.

“For some new mums, not having to go to work and not having to be places, or take people places, while you’re in lockdown has been a really positive thing because you’ve just been able to be at home with your baby,” she says.

“But there are downsides as well.”

Breastfeeding and COVID-19

Professor Gribble has addressed the following concerns about breastfeeding during the coronavirus pandemic:

  • it doesn’t appear that there is live virus in breast milk and there is no evidence of it being transmitted via breast milk.
  • Studies that looked at transmission rates of babies born to mothers with COVID-19 have shown that separating the baby from the mother does not decrease the rates of transmission from mother to baby.

Is relactation possible after stopping breastfeeding

Professor Gribble says ABA counsellors reported a rise in the number of women calling the ABA to ask if they can restart breastfeeding.

“They were thinking ‘I can provide my baby with food security if I’m breastfeeding. and it wouldn’t matter if there was no formula in the stores,” she said.

“Women were appreciating the protective value of breastfeeding to their baby so they were wanting to breastfeed for longer and breastfeed exclusively.

“Luckily there is a never-ending window of opportunity to restart breastfeeding. It’s possible for women who have never been pregnant or given birth to breastfeed. So if you’ve given birth to your baby — whether you might not have started or you might have weaned six months ago — it is absolutely possible to restart breastfeeding.

“It’s never too late really.”

Professor Gribble says is actually quite a simple process especially if you’ve got a new baby who likes to suck and is willing to suck. But is can be time intensive.

“How easy or how difficult it is, is very individualised,” she says.

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You can see all our coronavirus content in our COVID-19 Hub.

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