Why Covid-19-positive mothers can continue breastfeeding

Breastfeeding

Breast milk is a natural source of nutrition and sustenance as it helps to strengthen brain power and build up a child’s immune system.

Photo credit: Pool

Lactating mothers battling the coronavirus can continue exclusively breastfeeding their infants because breast milk protects babies against Covid-19, a specialist doctor has said.

“Whether the mother is sick or suspected to be sick, as long as she observes Covid-19 protocols, including washing hands and face-masking, she can comfortably breastfeed her baby and it is completely safe,” said Dr Yaser Aljaidi.

Babies get antibodies from breast milk that protect them against Covid-19, Dr Aljaidi said.

Meanwhile, Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) researcher Frank Angira has said studies show that it is safe for lactating mothers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

He said Covid-19 vaccines are safe for lactating mothers because they help them create antibodies that will become refined antibodies for a breastfeeding baby.  

“It’s also safe for the babies,” the researcher said during a Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (Mesha) webinar.

Dr Aljaidi, an Aga Khan Hospital-Mombasa paediatrician and neonatologist, said Covid-19 is a threat to breastfeeding the way HIV/Aids used to be.

The doctor decried the effects of the pandemic on exclusive breastfeeding, saying some lactating mothers worry that they may infect their infants with the virus.

Dr Aljaidi, however, assured mothers recovering from the coronavirus that they can exclusively breastfeed their infants.

“When HIV first came there were deterrents to breastfeeding but with ARVs now, mothers can continue breastfeeding their infants for up to two years as long as they are on their ARVs,” he said.

With Covid-19, he said, initially it was thought there was a risk.

“Breastfeeding has numerous benefits to both the baby and the mother. For babies, benefits include optimal nutrition for growth and development,” he said. 

“Breastfeeding gives protective armor to the infant, preventing infections, viral and bacterial, and less hospitalisation for the infant.”

Dr Aljaidi said lactating mothers are at a lower risk of suffering from diabetes, obesity and ovarian cancer. Maternal and child deaths for those under five years old, he said, can be prevented through breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months.

He blamed cultural practices that hinder exclusive breastfeeding, including the discarding of the mother’s first milk (colostrum), and instead giving the infant honey, water, sugarcane juice or dates.

“Colostrum, which is very beneficial to the infant, is always discarded. This practice is a threat to exclusive breastfeeding,” he said.

“Sentiments that a mother who has undergone a caesarian section has less breast milk can also antagonise exclusive breastfeeding.”

He urged employers to support lactating mothers by ensuring they set aside breastfeeding rooms. 

“We need workplaces to be conducive for breastfeeding mothers.” 

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