“All too often, breastfeeding is overlooked as a key lifesaving intervention, especially in emergencies. At the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, we must make sure that breastfeeding is top of mind among all those involved in funding, planning and implementing an emergency response.” Dr Francesco Branca, WHO Director of Nutrition for Health and Development, and Mr Werner Schultink, Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF
Breastfeeding becomes even more critical for survival in humanitarian emergencies. Whether caused by conflict or natural disasters, emergencies jeopardize the health of populations, and young children are among the most vulnerable. Overcrowding, food insecurity, unsafe water, poor sanitation, and overburdened health systems all contribute to a more dangerous situation for infants and children. Failure to fully protect breastfeeding in these circumstances dramatically worsens the situation.
Admitting and caring for infants that are exclusively formula fed with absolute risks of diarrhoeal diseases, pneumonia and undernutrition might lead to these sick infants not being adequately cared for in hospitals due to health care worker shortages, especially now with the Corona Virus outbreak and our health systems being seriously overburdened.
Breastmilk and the novel coronavirus SARS
Breast milk is the optimum source of nutrition for babies, yet the emergence of COVID-19 has raised questions both about the safety of breastfeeding and human milk banking.
Although there is much unknown about COVID-19, the following organisations: the Center for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) in the USA, UNICEF, the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), the European Milk Bank Association and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (AMB), all agree breastfeeding should be continued.
According to the CDC, to date the virus has not been isolated in the breastmilk of infected women. Neither is there evidence at this stage, that the virus can be transmitted through breastmilk. Although the virus was not found in the breastmilk of infected women, (High 5 to Breastmilk!!!) antibodies against SARS-CoV were detected in one sample. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2020)
No evidence of the virus was found in breastmilk, cord blood, amniotic fluid or throat swabs of newborns whose mothers had tested positive for the virus (Chen et al., 2020).
UNICEF ARE ENCOURAGING MOTHERS INFECTED WITH COVID-19 TO CONTINUE BREASTFEEDING
Editor-in-Chief of Breastfeeding Medicine, Arthur Eidelman, states: “Given the reality that mothers infected with coronavirus have probably already colonized their nursing infant, continued breastfeeding has the potential of transmitting protective maternal antibodies to the infant via the breast milk. Thus, breastfeeding should be continued with the mother carefully practicing handwashing and wearing a mask while nursing, to minimize additional viral exposure to the infant” (Liebert, 2020).
The Infant and Young Child Feeding in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic Eastern, Central and Southern Africa March 26, 2020 joint note aims to consolidate the current recommendations on Infant and Young Child Feeding in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa.
Their recommendations are:
Breastfeeding protects against morbidity and death in the post-neonatal period and throughout
infancy and childhood. The protective effect is particularly strong against infectious diseases that are prevented through both direct transfer of antibodies, other anti-infective factors and long-lasting transfer of immunological competence and memory.
In settings where diarrhea, respiratory infections and infectious morbidity are common in infants, any possible risk of transmission of COVID-19 through breastfeeding (not reported to date) is outweighed by the known risks associated with replacement feeding.