The risk of COVID-19 infection from breastfeeding is negligible and has never been documented, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
The health agency made this known via a statement published on its website to commemorate the 2020 World Breastfeeding Week which runs from August 1 to August 7.
The theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2020 is “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet”.
WHO said both infants and mothers are protected from any risk the COVID-19 virus poses if they practice exclusive breastfeeding.
“We have never documented, anywhere around the world, any (COVID-19) transmission through breastmilk,” Laurence Grummer-Strawn, head of the World Health Organization’s Food and Nutrition Action in Health Systems unit said.
“Exclusive breastfeeding for six months has many benefits for the infant and mother which far outweigh any risk from the new coronavirus pandemic.”
The official explained that although a few samples tested had contained the virus, “when they followed up to see whether the virus was actually viable and could be infective, they could not find any actual infective virus”.
The international agency urges women to continue breastfeeding their infants exclusively irrespective of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“WHO has been very clear in its recommendations to say absolutely breastfeeding should continue.”
WHO and UNICEF earlier noted that exclusive breastfeeding could save more lives and generate additional income.
“Indeed, analysis indicates that increasing rates of exclusive breastfeeding could save the lives of 820,000 children every year, generating $302 billion in additional income.”
Exclusive breastfeeding is when a child is only fed with breast milk without water, infant formula, any other liquid, or food.
Breast milk contains antibodies and lymphocytes from the mother that helps the baby resist infections.
Health experts say breast milk gives infants a good start to life because it contains all the vitamins and nutrients needed in the first six months of their life.
WHO and UNICEF recommends that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods, while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.
The breastmilk – including milk which is expressed – provides lifesaving antibodies that protect babies against many childhood illnesses.
“This is only one of the reasons why new mothers should initiate skin-to-skin contact and room-in with their babies quickly, as the risks of transmission of the COVID-19 virus from a COVID-positive mother to her baby seem to be extremely low,” Mr Grummer-Strawn said.
COVID ‘undermining essential support’
Mr Grummer-Strawn warned that the pandemic has weakened essential breastfeeding support usually provided to families with new-borns.
“Oftentimes, the health services that would provide maternal child health have been diverted to take care of the COVID response;
“Sometimes families do not feel comfortable in going into the health services, because they’re afraid that they might get COVID and so they don’t come for the routine kinds of support,” Mr Grummer-Strawn said.