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Breastfeeding and COVID-19: Interview with Dr Jayashree Jayakrishnan

Monali Bordoloi Monali Bordoloi 9 Mins Read

Monali Bordoloi Monali Bordoloi


Breastfeeding during the pandemic could be confusing and scary for new moms. Get educated about breastfeeding in the time of COVID-19. Our expert answers your FAQs

Infant to Parent
Breastfeeding and COVID-19: Interview with Dr Jayashree Jayakrishnan

New mom Shailaja is living in fear ever since she gave birth to a baby girl during the lockdown. For the last few days, Shailaja is down with fever and is mortified thinking whether she has the coronavirus. She is riddled with doubts, is anxious, confused, and has almost stopped nursing her baby. Many questions run through her mind. Can I breastfeed my child if I am corona positive? Will my child get the infection? What should I do if I am unwell and not able to nurse? 

Shailaja is not alone in this situation. Breastfeeding in the time of coronavirus is challenging and confusing. Like Shailaja, many new moms have questions around breastfeeding and coronavirus. To answer all your FAQs on breastfeeding during the pandemic and other queries on lactation, ParentCircle got in touch with Dr Jayashree Jayakrishnan, Lactation consultant, Fortis Malar Hospital.

On the occasion of #WorldBreastfeedingWeek (1-7 August), we talk about the importance of colostrum for babies, COVID-19, and breastfeeding and why family members of breastfeeding moms also need counseling. Dr Jayashree also clears many doubts new mothers may have about lactation in general. This informative video interview with the doctor would give you all the information you need regarding breastfeeding.

Here are the excerpts from the video interview:

1. What is colostrum? How important is colostrum for the newborn? 

Today we are going to talk about the elixir of life, breast milk. Colostrum is the milk that comes in the first one or two days after childbirth. It is a transparent, yellowish, sticky glue-like liquid, and comes in very minimal quantity. The benefits of colostrum are innumerable. It has the highest immunoglobulins and it helps the baby protect itself from hypochondria to jaundice. So, giving colostrum is like vaccination to the baby. No parent wants to miss a vaccine for their child. In the same way, never miss feeding colostrum to baby in the first few days after birth.

2. Can COVID-19 be transmitted through breast milk?

No, as of now there is no sufficient data to show that COVID-19 has been transmitted through breast milk. So, all the mothers can confidently breastfeed their babies. The benefits of breast milk are so overwhelming as it actually protects the baby from infectious diseases, which include SARS virus and even coronavirus. Even if the baby is infected with coronavirus, the baby should be breastfed as it helps the baby to recover faster and better.

3. What are the do's and don'ts that a mother should follow during this pandemic?

Even if the mother is COVID positive, she can breastfeed the baby. Many mothers have this query whether they can breastfeed or not if someone in the family is having symptomatic COVID-19. Also, mothers are curious to know about the precautions to take if a family member or someone in the neighborhood has asymptomatic COVID-19.

Maintain strict personal hygiene and feed the baby often. This itself will give full protection to the baby from COVID-19.

4. What kind of protection do new mothers need to take while breastfeeding? 

To begin with, if she has COVID-19 symptoms, she has to cover herself with a mask and wash her hands frequently. After a hand wash, feed the baby. But after feeding the baby, hand her over to a caregiver so that the baby is at no risk whatsoever of getting infected by the mother. And in case, the mother has not worn a mask and has had a bout of coughing or sneezing, she must wash the breast and then feed the baby. Otherwise, frequent washing of the breast or nipple is not mandatory. So, whether a mother is COVID positive or not, she needs complete support in her breastfeeding journey. She needs to be taught how to hold the baby, how to help the baby latch on, positions the baby needs to latch, and how frequently she should breastfeed and how she should burp the baby. A breastfeeding mom should also be informed about the importance and benefits of Kangaroo mother care or skin-to-skin contact. She needs complete support from the healthcare professionals at this point.

5. Does counseling the mother improve breastfeeding rates? 

Yes, 95% of lactation failure happens because of improper technique and positioning. So, a mother needs counseling regarding what to expect after childbirth. Most mothers are clueless about newborn care, they are not sure when they should feed the baby, how the baby will react, why is the baby crying, what should they do when the baby cries. So, when a mother is mentally prepared about newborn care, it helps her face the post-delivery days in a better way compared to mothers who are not being informed about all these issues.

Before a mother starts breastfeeding, she should be informed how to hold the baby and the best latching positions and what kind of pillow support she needs. For a comfortable feeding session, the mother should sit while feeding and must take complete back rest. There is no need to bend over while feeding the baby and the mother needs to keep herself hydrated too. And most of the time, newborn babies do not sleep at night, most babies have a night waking and day sleeping pattern. This takes time to adjust, approximately from 1.5 to three months, most babies adjust to the night sleeping pattern.

During the initial period, a breastfeeding mom needs help from family members on how to console the baby, how to keep the baby in a comfortable position. When all these things are being taught, breastfeeding becomes easy. Family members also need to take part in the breastfeeding journey of the mother as this keeps the mother motivated to go ahead with the breastfeeding practice and of course, it helps in the improvement of the breastfeeding rates.

6. Does mental stress affect breastfeeding?

Yes, it does. Whenever the mother is relaxed, happy and in a lighter mood, the Oxytocin production increases. Oxytocin hormone helps in the ejection of milk for feeding. But, if the mother is tense, anxious, or in a stressful mood, this production of Oxytocin will be impacted. In return, even though the mother has milk, the ejection will not happen smoothly. This, in turn, would make the baby fussy, as it is not being able to sustain the latch. There will be inconsistency in the latch which makes the mother think about whether she has enough milk or not. That's why we always tell that breastfeeding moms need to be in a relaxed mood while feeding.

Stress should be avoided at all cost. Family members should pitch in to help her relax and make her understand how important it is for the mother to be in a relaxed mood. As an expecting mother needs support during her pregnancy, the same kind of support is required even for post-delivery breastfeeding days.

7. What is the ideal diet for lactating mothers?

A lactating mother needs to take iron and calcium till she continues to breastfeed her baby. When she is breastfeeding and when she is bleeding after delivery, a mother is depleted of a lot of minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients from her body. She needs to be compensated with nutritious food. A balanced diet will help her gain all the lost nutrients.

8. What is the ideal way to feed infants?

This is one of the first and foremost doubts for all mothers. How long should I feed, what should be the frequency of feeds? Ideally, all newborns should be fed frequently. For example, every 1.5 to 2 hours and they should have more skin-to-skin contact. As these babies get a minimal quantity of milk in the days after childbirth, they need to be onto the breast for a longer duration. As days go by, the baby itself will create a schedule of demand and supply for feeding. So, we generally tell moms to follow the demand and supply cues of the baby and accordingly you must feed.

9. How can the husband and extended family members help a mother during her breastfeeding journey?

The help from the husband and family members is very important in the breastfeeding journey. When the mother is not feeding, her husband or family members can hold the baby and they can soothe and cuddle the baby when it cries. This Kangaroo mother care can be done by the father too also by giving skin-to-skin contact and by wrapping the baby. This makes the baby cozy and makes him feel as if it is still in the womb. Most attenders and family members complain that when they put the baby in the cradle or on the bed, it starts to cry. The reason is that they feel insecure. They feel as if there is no warmth. So, babies need to be held. This is required majorly for the first one- or two-month period. After that, automatically there will be a change.

Mothers need to have a break from baby care. They need to have a me-time. They need to have confidence in their family members that they will look after my baby, I can take a break. Most mothers do not take a break as they worry, if my baby cries will they be able to handle. So, family members need to reassure new mothers of their full support.

10. Tell us about Indias breastfeeding rates?

In India, about 41.6% of children under three years of age are breastfed within one hour of birth. About 54.9% are being exclusively breastfed within 6 months of age. These rates in breastfeeding have been given by the WHO. By 2025, WHO expects that India will achieve a 65% breastfeeding rate. I hope we will achieve it sooner with the support and guidance from healthcare professionals. As family members and also as a community, we have a role to play in helping mothers in their breastfeeding journeys. Thank you.

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