Mothers with Covid-19 encouraged to breastfeed
Cape Town - Breastfeeding women confirmed or suspected of having contracted Covid-19 are still encouraged to breastfeed their babies.
This was the sentiment shared by health experts during World Breastfeeding Week observed between August 1 and 7.
National Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize launched the World Breastfeeding Week campaign under the theme: "Support breastfeeding for a healthier South Africa."
The campaign aims to promote breastfeeding as a key child survival mechanism and the most cost-effective means for food provision for infants during the pandemic.
Women confirmed with Covid-19 are able to breastfeed should they want to, however, they should practise respiratory hygiene, wear a mask, wash hands before and after touching the baby, and clean and disinfect surfaces regularly.
According to the SA Civil Society for Womens', Adolescents' and Children's Health, South Africa has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world due to hostile environments.
The society said the campaign aimed to focus on creating an environment that enabled and supported women to breastfeed successfully, including food provision for mothers.
There was no additional risk of transmitting Covid-19 through breast milk and it still offered the best protection as it offered antibacterial and antiviral properties, said the society's nutrition lead, Dr Chantell Witten.
“The benefits of breastfeeding are well established. It is optimum food for children. It is unique in its biomedical properties in that it offers immunity, and we are discovering more that breastfeeding has unique properties aligned to brain development, so it also has neurological and brain development properties.”
Stasha Jordan from the SA Breastmilk Reserve said breastfeeding during Covid-19 was essential.
“It supports the baby's immune system to develop and grow, and it also strengthens the bond between mother and baby during a time where stressors are high. It is during this time that we are called to reflect on the values that support breastfeeding, the immunological and medicinal value of breast milk, the nutritional value of breast milk and the optimal food for children as well as the emotional bond that forms between mother and child.”
On Monday, the World Health Organization urged the resumption of essential health services such as pre- and postnatal care services, which have taken a back seat amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Mothers should be counselled that the many benefits of breastfeeding for newborn babies and children substantially outweigh the potential risk of Covid-19 infections.
“Mothers and infants should be helped to remain together while rooming in throughout the day and night, and to practice skin-to-skin contact including kangaroo mother care, and especially immediately after birth and during establishment of breastfeeding whether they or their infants have suspected or confirmed Covid-19,” WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.