If you’re pregnant and test positive for COVID-19, here’s some reassuring news. There’s no evidence that you’ll pass COVID-19 on to your baby after she’s born, providing you follow all the basic safety protocols, including wearing a mask while breastfeeding and sleeping at least 6 feet apart when rooming in, a new study suggests.
At the height of the epidemic, researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City examined 101 babies born to COVID-19-positive moms. Almost all of the moms chose to breastfeed their babies after birth and were instructed to do so wearing a mask and after washing their breasts and hands with soap and water. Three quarters of the moms stayed in the same room as their newborn, with the baby placed in a protective crib at a distance of 6 feet.
Only two of the newborns tested positive for COVID-19, and they did not show signs of illness (including two weeks later when the researchers followed up with them). It’s not clear how the newborns contracted the disease.
Based on the findings, the study authors concluded in JAMA Pediatrics that there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted from moms to their newborns, if proper hygiene and distancing precautions are taken.
Guidance and practices around what to do when a woman with COVID-19 gives birth have shifted since the start of the pandemic. At first, experts’ understanding of the disease and transmission was limited, and some medical organizations and hospitals recommended separating newborns from their mothers for up to a week. That’s changing as evidence begins to mount that these separations may not be necessary and also because health providers realize the importance of skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding after birth.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, for example, now says that separation may sometimes be needed but recommends a “shared decision-making” process involving the patient, family, and clinical team.
Skin-to-skin contact after birth helps a mom and her baby bond, and is good for a newborn’s development. Breastfeeding is also very beneficial for both the mom and newborn, and is best instigated soon after birth. Breast milk may even contain antibodies that can help fight the coronavirus, the researchers said.
“Our findings should reassure expectant mothers with COVID-19 that basic infection-control measures during and after childbirth – such as wearing a mask and engaging in breast and hand hygiene when holding or breastfeeding a baby – protected newborns from infection in this series,” said lead study author Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman in a statement.