Breastfeeding is the cornerstone of infant survival, nutrition and development and maternal well-being. World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is observed every year from August 1-7 for raising awareness about the importance of breastfeeding and its greater benefits for both infants and mother. It also emphasizes the importance of assisting mothers in continuing breastfeeding as long as they wish. This year theme is “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet”. Also Read: World Breastfeeding Week 2020: Incredible Exercises To Enhance Lactation For The New Mom

World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) is a global network that constantly works to protect, promote and support breastfeeding practises across the globe. WABA works along with WHO and UNICEF to reach people all over the globe. The best breastfeeding practise is essential for lifelong good health and overall well-being of the mother and child.

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Optimal Breastfeeding Guidelines Recommended By The WHO And UNICEF:

Early initiation of breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life.

Continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond, with the introduction of nutritionally adequate and safe weaning (solid) foods at 6 months.

Does SARS-CoV-2 Virus Transmit Through Breast Milk?

In these days of COVID-19 Pandemic, concerns have been raised whether mothers with COVID-19 would transmit the SARS-CovV-2 virus to their new-borns through breastfeeding. COVID-19 transmits between people who are in close contact, chiefly through respiratory droplets when an affected person coughs, sneeze or talks. Experts say till date, there is not enough clinical evidence to prove that mothers with COVID-19 can transmit the virus via breast milk and breast milk is not likely source of transmission. In addition, breastfeeding have been proven to be safe when a mother has other illness like the flu.
COVID-19 breastfeeding tips

Why Is Breast Milk Considered Safe?

The nature of breast milk is dynamic and greatly valued as it is a probiotic, prebiotic and antibiotic. Breast milk is bestowed with vast reserves of antimicrobial and bioactive components like immunoglobins, cytokines, cellular factors like T and B lymphocytes, neutrophils and human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) which stimulate the healthy gut and hinder adhesion of microbial pathogens to epithelial surfaces, thus averting the risk of infection. 

Besides this, the feedback loop mechanism that the mother and baby’s bodies engage when a new-born is feeding directly at the breast. The mother's nipple has special receptors sites for enzymes in their new-born’s salvia and mother’s brain detect certain features of the enzyme from salvia and this can change the nature of the milk produced. In the case of COVID-19 positive mothers, feedback loop signals the mother’s body to produce more antibodies against the novel coronavirus. Such an incredible natural phenomena for babies the way breast milk functions to shield the infants from deadly SARS-CoV-2 Virus.

COVID-19 And Breastfeeding:

As per the Latest Study Published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health Journal, recommends that breastfeeding is safe even if the mother has the novel coronavirus, while breastfeeding can provide an infant with antibodies as well as dense nutritional benefits. Breastfeeding during COVID-19 Pandemic is safe, provided mothers who had contracted novel coronavirus following certain precautionary measures. Also Read: COVID-19 And Diet: The Role Of Nutrients In Combating The Deadly Coronavirus 

Breastfeeding Precautions And Tips:

Mothers should be made to understand that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants. Moreover, mothers should be educated and motivated by family members and doctors about how to initiate and continue breastfeeding.

World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be motivated to initiate or continue to breastfeed. Mothers should be counselled that the merits of breastfeeding significantly outweigh the potential risk for transmission.

Mother and new-born should be encouraged to remain together throughout the day and night and also practise skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth and during breastfeeding, even if mother or infants have suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Practising proper respiratory hygiene during breastfeeding is utmost important. Especially if the mother has symptoms such as shortness of breath, use a medical mask when the child is near you.

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap or sanitizer, especially if the hands are visibly soiled before touching the child.

If soap and water are not available to use a hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol.

Mothers should wear a cloth face covering while breastfeeding.

Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces touched by you.

If the mother is severely sick with COVID-19 which prevent her from caring the new-born or hinders direct breastfeeding, then mothers should be encouraged to express breast milk via breast pump or hand to safely provide breast milk to the infant.

Mothers should clean her hands before touching any parts of the pump or bottle and should be educated about ways to properly clean and sanitize breast pumps.

Expressed breast milk should be fed to the infant by a healthy member of the family who is not at risk of COVID-19 infection.

If the mothers are severely sick to breastfeed or express breast milk, then it is best to restart breastfeeding after a gap, however using donor milk or wet nursing (another woman breastfeeding) can be used depending on cultural context, acceptability and service availability.