Mothers are opting to breastfeed babies for longer during COVID-19 pandemic

CARE: The pandemic has led some mothers to continue breastfeeding longer than intended. Picture: Shutterstock
CARE: The pandemic has led some mothers to continue breastfeeding longer than intended. Picture: Shutterstock

An expert in feeding babies during emergencies has highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on new mums, who are placing increasing importance on breastfeeding during the pandemic.

Adjunct Associate Professor Karleen Gribble from the Western Sydney University School of Nursing and Midwifery said the global health crisis has led women to continue breastfeeding longer than they had previously intended, or even restart breastfeeding after they had weaned.

"During these difficult times, it's understandable for mums to be concerned about the wellbeing of their babies," said Associate Professor Gribble.

"Mums are concerned about contracting the virus, and are considering breastfeeding as a means of boosting their overall health and immunity. They are also concerned about the availability of formula, and are considering the practical value of breastfeeding while in lockdown."

Associate Professor Gribble is a community educator with the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) - a national organisation which supports women to breastfeed their infants and young children.

Since the advent of the pandemic, the ABA has experienced an increase in the number of women who are seeking support and assistance with breastfeeding. The most common concerns were in regards to insufficient milk or inadequate weight gain - with mothers indicating they were concerned about their inability to see a midwife or child and family health nurse and have their babies weighed.

ABA Breastfeeding Information and Research Senior Manager, Naomi Hull said it became apparent that, for many women, the National Breastfeeding Helpline became the only resource for advice, support and reassurance about their babies while in isolation.

"After having a baby, women ordinarily receive ongoing face-to-face support from health services, and are able to routinely check on their baby's progress. However, during the pandemic these support services were not consistently available," Ms Hull said.

"Women were anxious about the lack of access to usual support services, and whether they were able to continue providing nutrition for their infants. They also really wanted the protection for their baby that breast milk can provide."

Can I still breastfeed my baby if I have COVID-19?

If you have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having COVID-19 you can continue to breastfeed or supply expressed breast milk for your baby. Breastfeeding helps protect babies from a variety of illnesses and importantly keeps mothers and babies together.

This is because breast milk contains antibodies and other immune protective factors.

According to the World Health Organisation, there is not sufficient data to conclude vertical transmission of COVID-19 through breastfeeding. In infants, the risk of COVID-19 infection is low, while the consequences of not breastfeeding and separation between mother and child can be significant.

If you have stopped breastfeeding there is help available to restart. Call the Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268 for support.

What if I am too unwell to breastfeed?

If you are too unwell to breastfeed your baby, another option is to express regularly so that your baby keeps receiving your breast milk and so is less likely to become unwell. Before expressing, it is important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. If using a breast pump, it is important to ensure proper cleaning is followed.

Will my milk supply reduce if I have COVID-19?

Some mothers notice a supply drop when they are unwell. If this happens to you, you can call to speak to an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor for support.

How can I reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others?

Even if you don't have symptoms of COVID-19, wash your hands often using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Cover your mouth and nose with a bent elbow when coughing or sneezing; and avoid close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms.

This story COVID-19 prompts return to breastfeeding babies for longer first appeared on The Canberra Times.