By: Mirine Richey, MPH, IBCLC
The Flu and Coronavirus:
Can your milk or pump be at risk?
You can’t avoid the stories and worries of influenza (flu) and now COVID-19 (coronavirus). If you are pregnant or providing milk for a baby, the worry can be even worse! Let’s take a brief look at both of these respiratory viruses since there is so much media attention and look at what you can do to protect yourself, your baby and your milk, especially while traveling or exposed to crowds of people.
Flu: the flu is a respiratory virus that is spread through coughing, sneezing, and droplets of saliva. Flu can live on surfaces, including plastic, but not for more than about a day or two. Flu can be killed on surfaces by using common household disinfectant wipes and cleaners, and by wiping surfaces thoroughly including breast pumps.
Hand washing, avoiding crowds and getting a flu shot are recommended. For pregnant women, if you get a flu shot in your last trimester, it can protect your baby for the first several months after baby is born. Breastfeeding can help your baby develop a strong immune system.
Coronavirus or COVID-19: This is a novel virus meaning it is new to humans and we do not have any immune-memory to fight it. There is also no treatment or vaccine. We have immune-memory to fight things such as the common cold and that is why we get over that in a few days with little complication. Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza (flu) and other respiratory illnesses spread. In limited studies on women with COVID-19 and another coronavirus infection, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), the virus has not been detected in breast milk and is not thought to transmit to the baby this way.
What can parents do to avoid spreading these viruses to the infant?
Precautions, including washing hands before touching the infant and wearing a face mask, if mom has symptoms. Mom wears the mask, not the baby.
If expressing breast milk with a pump, the mother should wash her hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and follow strict guidelines for keeping the pump clean after each use. This includes wiping the outside of the pump with a disinfectant wipe as both of these viruses can live on plastic for a day or two. This is especially important for a mom who travels with her pump or uses her pump in a public place. Although most cases of flu and coronavirus are not spread by touching surfaces, taking these extra precautions can lower your risk of having a virus on the outside of your pump, then touching it and touching your eyes, nose, mouth or baby’s eyes, nose or mouth.
If you have fever or respiratory symptoms and do not have a face mask, consider having someone who is well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant.
Preparation tips, for community illnesses and other disasters:
- Find out what the sitter or center’s policy is on illness, fever, disinfecting.
- Make a plan for care if your center has a temporary closing.
- Make a plan with your employer to find out if you can work from home, and what that would look like.
- If you do not have a job that has remote flexibility, find out what the policy is at your work in the event that public health authorities recommend staying home.
- Always keep a supply on hand for baby extras, and if you are pumping keep extra pump parts on hand.
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