Copenhagen, 4 August 2021
Breastfeeding has many advantages for mother and child and does not need to be discontinued during COVID-19 infection nor following vaccination of the mother. The virus that causes COVID-19 has not been detected in breastmilk, according to a limited number of studies to date, indicating that it is safe to carry on breastfeeding, while taking recommended precautions, even if a mother develops COVID-19.
Furthermore, based on the evidence available so far and knowledge of how COVID-19 vaccines work, vaccinating a breastfeeding mother to protect her from COVID-19 poses no risk to her infant. Breastfeeding mothers who have received the COVID-19 vaccine have antibodies in their milk, which could even help to protect their babies from infection with the virus.
Rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the WHO European Region (comprising 53 countries) are the lowest of all WHO regions, with just 13% of infants exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months. Meanwhile, only a third of the adult population in the Region has completed their full COVID-19 vaccination dose, as the Delta variant becomes dominant in the Region and COVID-19 cases exceed 60 million.
To mark World Breastfeeding Week, WHO/Europe is urging breastfeeding women to get vaccinated against COVID-19 when it is their turn, in line with national vaccination plans. WHO does not recommend discontinuing breastfeeding because of COVID-19 vaccination. Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival, including providing antibodies and protection.
Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, Director of Country Health Policies and Systems at WHO/Europe, said: “As a mother who has breastfed all 3 of my children, I know first-hand that breastmilk is one of the best sources of nutrition for infants, including infants whose mothers have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection. As long as an infected mother takes appropriate precautions, she can breastfeed her baby.
“Breastmilk contains antibodies and other immunological benefits that can help protect against respiratory diseases. A growing body of evidence supports the importance of breastfeeding for a child’s growth, development and health, as well as for helping them avoid obesity and noncommunicable diseases later in life.
“The benefits of breastfeeding and nurturing mother–infant interaction to prevent infection and promote health and development are especially important when health and other community services are disrupted or limited because of the pandemic.”
WHO’s current guidance is that women with COVID-19 can breastfeed if they wish to do so, but they should take precautions, including:
- practicing respiratory hygiene during feeding, including wearing a mask or covering mouth and nose;
- washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after touching the baby;
- routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces they have touched.