World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that coronavirus-positive mothers who breastfeed are not at risk of transmitting the virus to their infant through their milk.
“We know that children are at relatively low risk of COVID-19, but are at high risk of numerous other diseases and conditions that breastfeeding prevents,” Tedros said in a press briefing.
Tedros said the that the WHO had carefully investigated the risk of women transmitting the disease onto their child, and found the mother should continue breast feeding, unless she is too ill to continue doing so.
“Based on the available evidence, WHO’s advice is that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risks of transmission of COVID-19,” Tedros said Friday.
Anshu Banerjee, director of WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said that only “fragments” of the virus exist in the breast milk, and live virus has not yet been detected in breast milk.
“So, the risk of transmission from mother, to child therefore, so far, has not been established,” Banerjee said.
WHO has posted guidelines for health facilities maintaining necessary services for newborn care during the coronavirus pandemic.
Women are encouraged to still touch their infants and are instructed by the WHO to “hold your new born skin to skin,” even when positive for coronavirus. The WHO also says that mothers should share a room with their newborns and exercise hygienic practices when breastfeeding and holding their infant, such as washing your hands for 20 seconds.
“Breastmilk contains antibodies and other immunological benefits that can help protect against respiratory diseases,” the WHO wrote in a their report.
“The experience obtained so far shows that the disease course of COVID-19 generally is not severe in infants and young children,” the statement notes. “The main risk of transmission appears to come from the respiratory tract of an infected mother.”