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Mothers with Covid-19 are ‘unlikely’ to infect their babies during breastfeeding

Mothers with Covid-19 are unlikely to pass the virus to their newborns if simple infection control measures are in place, a small study suggests.  

Researchers reported no cases of the disease in 120 babies born to infected mothers, even when both shared a room and the child was breastfed. 

Mothers were required to wear surgical masks when handling their child and follow stringent hand and breast washing procedures.

Babies were also kept in enclosed cots six feet (1.8metres) away from their parent at all times except when breastfeeding.  

The researchers behind the study say they hope it will reassure pregnant women that the risk of them passing Covid-19 to their child is low.  

Mothers in the UK have been recommended to continue to breastfeed their newborns throughout the crisis.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the benefits of breastfeeding significantly ‘outweigh any potential risks of transmission’.

The latest study, published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal, looked at 120 babies born to 116 Covid-19-positive women between March 22 and May 17.

All babies were tested for the virus via a nasal swab within 24 hours after birth and none tested positive.

Some of the mothers recovered from the coronavirus and were allowed home during the study, so only 79 babies were then tested again a week after birth.  

Seventy-two of these babies were swabbed again after a fortnight after sharing a room with their infected parent and breastfeeding.

But none of the results were positive and none of the children showed any symptoms.

Researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine-New York Presbyterian children’s hospital, who did the study, said larger studies are needed before definitive conclusions can be made.

They noted that, at the time of the study, blood, fecal and urine Covid-19 tests had not been approved.

This means some of the children might have been infected inside their mothers’ wombs and cleared the disease by the time they were born.

The researchers also relied on what the mothers reported themselves about their hand hygiene and mask usage.

Lead researcher Dr Christine Salvatore, a pediatrician at the New York hospital, said: ‘Data on the risk of Covid-19 transmission during pregnancy or while breastfeeding are limited to a small number of case studies.

‘Consequently, guidelines for pregnant women and new mothers vary. We hope our study will provide some reassurance to new mothers that the risk of them passing Covid-19 to their babies is very low,’ Salvatore said..

‘However, larger studies are needed to better understand the risks of transmission from mother to child.’

Dr Patricia DeLaMora, also from the Komansky Children’s Hospital who jointly led the study, said: ‘We know that skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding are important both for mother-infant bonding and for long-term child health.

‘Our findings suggest that babies born to mothers with Covid-19 infection can still benefit from these safely, if appropriate infection control measures are followed.’ 

The biggest British study into Covid-19’s effect on pregnant women and their children found that one in 20 of newborns born to infected women test positive for the virus. 

The study, published last month by the UK Obstetric Surveillance System (UKOSS), looked at 427 women infected with the disease across the country 

Even though five per cent of children tested positive, they ‘all lived very well’, according to the researchers.  

The researchers said it was ‘probably’ the case that most of these children caught the virus through the placenta of their mothers.

But they said he couldn’t rule out the possibility some caught it from their parent, or a midwife, after birth.

The study was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal and cited by health chiefs as evidence as to why breastfeeding should continue even in infected women.   

Tthe Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said that separating mothers and babies at birth was more detrimental than the risk of Covid for infants.

Just a handful of children have caught the coronavirus in Britain, and experts believe infants’ risk of contracting the virus is ‘unbelievably low’.

Doctors say infected children are far more likely to have no symptoms than they are to develop a severe case of COVID-19.   

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