Being pregnant during the coronavirus pandemic is extremely stressful, and many decisions, like breastfeeding, got very complicated very quickly. And, like many other aspects of the virus, we are still learning about the implications for your pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding experience.
Experts are currently recommending that parents who want to breastfeed be supported to do that safely. In this article, we are sharing tips on how to safely pump and store your breast milk during COVID.
Can COVID get passed to your baby through breast milk?
Since the specifics of what “safely” means change often, you will need to be proactive about keeping current on the latest protocols. And, just like the recommendations for your pregnancy and overall health, talk to your healthcare provider about what specific information is relevant for your situation/COVID status.
- Can COVID get passed to your baby through breast milk?
- How Can I Pump Safely During COVID?
Currently, there are no studies that show that COVID passes into your milk. Studies of past similar viruses (SARS etc) also revealed no presence of the virus in breast milk. However, any virus that you are exposed to causes you to make antibodies. So, in the unlikely event that COVID is later found in breast milk, the antibodies will also be present! Imagine your baby receiving these valuable antibodies and how beneficial that will be while we wait for a vaccine.
Because of the vast immunological advantages to your baby, all of the global authorities on COVID recommend the use of breast milk (breastfeeding, pumped milk, donor milk, etc.), even if you are positive for the virus. That’s right, even if you are COVID positive, it is still recommended that you breastfeed/chestfeed and/or pump should you wish to breastfeed.
Rest assured that if your baby needs donor milk, milk banks routinely handle and process the milk so that it is safe for all circumstances, including COVID. During times of crisis and for babies in crisis any time, milk banks save lives. Learn more about milk banks on the HMBANA website and consider donating if you are able.
How Can I Pump Safely During COVID?
Currently, there are no COVID-19 specific recommendations for pumping and storing breast milk for parents to follow, but given what we know about other similar viruses, experts have compiled some recommendations. Note: there are additional recommendations for COVID-19 positive parents. You should follow these if you are in a waiting period after a possible exposure. Also note that early studies have shown pregnant positive COVID-19 patients have a very high chance of being asymptomatic, so talk to your healthcare provider about frequent testing recommendations.
1. Wash your hands before pumping
You should do this every time you pump even without special COVID-19 recommendations. It is very important to keep conditions as “sterile” as possible when pumping your milk, even under normal circumstances. Milk storage guidelines are based on “very clean” collection, so it’s an excellent habit to start now.
2. Wear gloves
If you don’t have access to hand-washing facilities where you pump.
3. Wear a Mask While You are Pumping
If you are COVID-19 positive, wear a mask when pumping and handling pumped milk.
4. Disinfect Your Pump
Before pumping, wipe your pump, power adaptor, tubing, and other non-boilable parts with a disinfecting wipe.
5. Keep your collection kit as clean as possible
Under normal conditions, the CDC recommends hand washing with hot soapy water, but currently, parents are advised to additionally boil your parts after each use. Recommended boiling time is 10 minutes, using a paper towel to dry your parts and storing your kit in a clean location, covered by another paper towel. Use each paper towel only once.
You should never boil your breast pump tubing or expose it to washing/water. Many pumps today are closed-system, so your milk does not make contact with the tubing or the pump motor unit. Wipe your tubing, pump body, power adapter, and anything else that cannot be boiled with a disinfectant wipe. Ask your breast pump manufacturer about their specific tubing and other cleaning recommendations, especially if the pump is not a closed system and milk can collect in the tubing.
6. Store your breast pump in a covered, clean location
Because most parents do not typically boil their pump collection kits after each use, past recommendations on when you’ll need additional parts will vary. But, generally, expect to need more flanges, bottles, and other parts sooner than with hand washing and occasional boiling.
We recommend that parents have at least one full collection kit as a spare in case of accidental boiling damage and extra parts as needed to make the process more convenient.
Note that pump warranties cover your pump motor for the specified amount of time (typically one year) but collection kits are warrantied for a typical 90 days against manufacturer defects. Boiling accidents are not manufacturing defects and are not covered under pump warranties.
Stay current on COVID by checking these trusted sources for more updates.
- American Academy of Breastfeeding – COVID specific information
- American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists
- Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists