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Mothers 'unlikely' to pass Covid-19 on to newborn babies via breastfeeding if precautions are taken

The findings were part of a preliminary study published in The Lancet.

Image: Shutterstock/Evgeny Atamanenko

MOTHERS WHO HAVE contracted Covid-19 are unlikely to pass the virus to their newborn babies if correct hygiene precautions are observed, a preliminary study has suggested.

The small study, involving 120 babies born to mothers with Covid-19, found no cases of transmission of the virus during childbirth or after two weeks of breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact.

The findings, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, suggest that mothers with Covid-19 can breastfeed and stay in the same room as their newborn safely, if they use appropriate face coverings and follow infection control procedures.

It comes amid conflicting international advice for mothers of newborn children who have contracted the virus.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that mothers and newborns should be temporarily separated at birth, the view is not shared by the World Health Organisation and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The latter two recommend that mothers should share a room with their babies and breastfeed with appropriate precautions, and emphasise that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh potential risks of Covid-19 transmission.

The findings come from observations of 120 babies born to 116 mothers at three hospitals in New York between 22 March and 17 May.

All of the babies were allowed to share a room with their mothers and breastfeed, if their mothers were well enough. The babies were kept in enclosed cots that were two metres away from their mothers, except during feeding.

Mothers were required to wear surgical masks while handling their babies and followed frequent hand and breast washing procedures.

All of the babies underwent a test from a nasal swab within the first 24 hours of birth and none tested positive for Covid-19.

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Check-ups on two-thirds of the babies in the weeks after they were born found no positive results for Covid-19, and none of the babies showed symptoms of the virus at any time.

However, the researchers highlighted that the sample size in the study is too small to draw firm conclusions, and suggest larger studies may be needed.

The conditions of almost one third of babies were not followed-up in the weeks after they were born, which researchers said may be explained by parents’ fear of leaving their homes and using public transport to attend clinical appointments.

It was also noted that the testing relied on nasal swabs, and that if the babies had been infected in the womb, it is possible the virus would not have been present in samples.

Researchers were not able to screen for the presence of the virus in blood, urine or faecal samples because such tests were not validated at the time of the study.

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