The Turkish Ministry of Health is urging mothers to keep breastfeeding their babies during the coronavirus pandemic, even if they think they are infected with the virus.
“Mothers should be informed that the benefits of breastfeeding significantly outweigh the potential risk of transmission,” the ministry said in a new “breast milk” section added to the Child Patient Management and Treatment Guide.
Breast milk is by far the best source of nutrition for babies, even if the mother has COVID-19, it said.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation on the issue says that mothers who are suspected of having the coronavirus or who test positive for the virus can still apply skin-to-skin contact with their babies and continue breastfeeding.
The Health Ministry said mothers who are or could be infected with COVID-19 should wash their hands before handling their babies, wear a mask while breastfeeding and disinfect surfaces that they have touched to avoid spreading the virus. In short, they should follow strict hygiene guidelines.
“If the general health conditions of the mother directly prevent breastfeeding, obtaining breast milk with a pump should be supported,” the Health Ministry said.
“If breast milk is given manually or via an electric breast milk pump, the mother should wash her hands before touching any parts of the pump or bottle and follow the recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use,” it said.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Turkey said in a June report, “To date, the transmission of active COVID-19 through breastmilk and breastfeeding has not been detected.”
Breast milk provides babies with much-needed antibodies that protect them against all kinds of infections. Though not enough research has been carried out on the subject yet, UNICEF says the antibodies and bioactive factors in breast milk may even help babies fight off COVID-19 infections.
“Evidence is overwhelmingly in support of breastfeeding. Skin-to-skin contact and early, exclusive breastfeeding helps your baby to thrive,” UNICEF Turkey said on its website.