Getting sick with a newborn in the house can be stressful, especially if you’re worried about passing the illness to your baby through close contact or even breast milk.
It might be a relief to know that the virus that causes COVID-19 doesn’t pass to your baby through breast milk. However, it’s still possible to infect your baby if you are sick and providing care to an infant.
This article will discuss the risks and benefits of breastfeeding if you’re infected with COVID-19, and how to protect an infant if you are sick with COVID-19.
Breast milk and the act of breastfeeding itself have many benefits for your baby — even if you are sick with COVID-19. Numerous studies have analyzed the milk of mothers infected with COVID-19 and found that the virus is not passed through breast milk — but antibodies that protect them from infection can be.
As with other viral illnesses, your body begins making antibodies shortly after infection. These antibodies are similar to vaccines in the way they include information to help your body fight the infection.
However, when you breastfeed with a COVID-19 infection, your baby can be infected if other precautions — such as washing your hands and wearing a mask — are not taken. This is due to face-to-face and hand-to-body contact while breastfeeding, not the breast milk itself.
Is it OK to express milk if you have COVID-19?
Since breast milk can contain antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 infection, it can be beneficial to express milk to feed your baby while you are sick. This is something you might consider doing if you have COVID-19 and have chosen to limit close contact with your infant in order to prevent infection.
Although the virus isn’t passed through breast milk, it’s important to remember that you can still infect your baby through “regular” transmission methods like saliva and respiratory particles.
While your breast milk itself is safe, there are still precautions you should take to avoid transmitting the virus to your baby in other ways. These include:
- wear a mask while feeding your baby and while expressing milk
- wash your hands thoroughly before feeding your baby or expressing milk
- only use your own breast pump to express milk; do not share pumps
- clean all parts of the breast pump well after use
- consider having an uninfected member of the household provide direct care and feeding with the expressed milk if you are sick
- make sure that anyone feeding the infant washes their hands thoroughly prior to feeding and wears a mask while feeding (even if they don’t have symptoms)
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are at an increased risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19, but vaccination is considered safe and is strongly recommended.
In general, CDC recommends pregnant and nursing mothers stay up to date on all vaccinations — not just the COVID vaccine — except vaccines that contain live virus particles like:
- rubella (MMR)
varicella (chickenpox) vaccine
- live influenza vaccine (nasal version only; the injected flu vaccine is fine)
- certain travel vaccines such as yellow fever, typhoid fever, and Japanese encephalitis
Aside from protecting mothers from becoming severely ill, there is evidence that vaccination can help protect babies, too. Antibodies that offer protection from the virus can be passed through breast milk, whether those antibodies came from a COVID-19 infection itself or from vaccination.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, make sure to discuss all vaccines you’re considering with your doctor.
If you are sick with COVID-19, it’s best to
When this isn’t an option either because you live alone or other household members are also infected, you or other caregivers should wear a mask and practice careful hand hygiene when caring for your baby.
Even household members who are well should wear masks when caring for your infant as long as you are in isolation or ill.
If you or other members of the household are feeling better after having COVID-19, you should continue to wear a mask when caring for your baby until at least the 10th day after you tested positive for COVID-19 or began experiencing symptoms.
Signs an infant has become infected with COVID-19
The following symptoms may be signs that your baby has become infected with the virus:
- runny nose
- poor appetite or feeding difficulties
- difficulty breathing
One report that tracked mothers infected with COVID-19 who breastfed their babies found that between 2 and 5 percent of infants ended up infected also, but they were either asymptomatic or only mildly sick.
If you suspect your baby has become infected with COVID-19, call your pediatrician for guidance.
Can I pass COVID-19 to my baby through breast milk?
No. No particles of virus that cause active infection have been found in breast milk.
Can breast milk protect babies from a COVID-19 infection?
Breast milk has been found to contain antibodies to the COVID-19 virus that can help protect your baby from severe infection. This includes antibodies you develop during an active COVID-19 infection or from vaccination.
When can babies be vaccinated for COVID-19?
At this time babies cannot be vaccinated. Children must be at least 5 years old to receive the COVID vaccine.
How should I protect my baby if I have COVID and I’m breastfeeding?
If you have COVID-19 and have an infant you are breastfeeding, consider expressing milk and allowing someone else who is not infected to feed the baby while you isolate.
If you or someone else who is infected must feed and care for your baby while you have COVID-19, wear a mask and be sure to wash hands for at least 20 seconds before handling the baby or breast milk.
Breast milk is a nutritional and readily available food source for your baby, and it can even provide protective antibodies that can prevent severe infection should COVID be passed to your child.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is not passed through breast milk, but anyone handling a baby still has to be careful to avoid infecting the baby through respiratory particles or close contact.