What is coronavirus (COVID-19) and what are its symptoms?
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus linked to the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).1 Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath.1
Can you still breastfeed if you have COVID-19?
If you have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having COVID-19 you and your baby can be supported to remain together while continuing to breastfeed or supply expressed breastmilk for your baby.2 Breastfeeding helps protect babies from a variety of illnesses and importantly keeps mothers and babies together.3 This is because breastmilk contains antibodies and other immune protective factors. If you have stopped breastfeeding there is help available to restart, please call the Breastfeeding Helpline for support.
What if you are too unwell to breastfeed?
If you are too unwell to breastfeed your baby, another option is to express regularly so that your baby keeps receiving your breastmilk and so is less likely to become unwell. Before expressing, it is important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. If using a breast pump, it is important to ensure proper cleaning is followed. See our article Expressing and storing breastmilk for more information.
Will my supply reduce if I have COVID-19?
Some mothers notice a supply drop when they are unwell. If this happens to you, you can call to speak to an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor for support, see a lactation consultant or a medical advisor. You may also find it helpful to read our article Increasing supply.
How can I reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others?
Even if you don’t have symptoms of COVID-19, there are things we can all do in order to minimise the chances of spreading COVID-19. For example, it is important to:
- Wash your hands often using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a bent elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing, and immediately throwing away any used tissues.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms.
- See a doctor if you develop even the mildest of symptoms including a runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat etc.1
For the latest information about COVID-19 where you live, refer to your state health department website.
Can breastfeeding women have the COVID-19 vaccine?
COVID-19 vaccinations are currently being rolled out in Australia. Unfortunately, breastfeeding women were excluded from COVID-19 vaccine studies. However, based on what is known about similar vaccines, it is believed that the risks will be low.
Australia's Department of Health has indicated that breastfeeding women can get an approved COVID-19 vaccine and don't need to stop breastfeeding before or after. Each individual breastfeeding woman should consult with their doctor about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that breastfeeding women be vaccinated against COVID-19 whenever they are part of a group of people for whom vaccination is recommended. The WHO also recommends that women continue breastfeeding after vaccination. Each individual breastfeeding woman should consult with their doctor about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
What happens when pregnant and breastfeeding women receive COVID-19 vaccines?
Pregnant and breastfeeding women have been excluded from COVID-19 vaccine trials. However, pregnant and breastfeeding women are choosing to get vaccinated where the risk of infection is high. The only way to know whether COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in these two groups of women is to watch what happens after they get vaccinated.
One published study of outcomes for pregnant, breastfeeding and non-pregnant women who were vaccinated with either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines in the United States found that:
- pregnant and breastfeeding women had similar antibody responses to non-pregnant women
- all vaccinated women had higher levels of antibodies compared to antibody levels in pregnant women with natural COVID-19 infection
- antibodies were found in all umbilical cord blood and breastmilk samples.
Antibodies found in umbilical cord blood can transfer to the foetus and antibodies in breastmilk can transfer to the baby. These antibodies may protect babies against COVID-19 infection, but these studies have not been done yet.
Gray, K. J., Bordt, E. A., , C., Deriso, E., Akinwunmi, B., Young, N., ... & Alter, G. (2021). COVID-19 vaccine response in pregnant and lactating women: a cohort study. American Journal of Obstetrics and . https:// doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2021.03.023.
Freely available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002937821001873
For further information about the COVID-19 vaccine and breastfeeding see:
Australian Department of Health
World Health Organization
For further information about COVID-19 and breastfeeding, see:
World Health Organization
For more information
If breastfeeding has stopped, there is information and support available on how to restart: Relactation and induced breastfeeding
Information is also available to reduce formula top-ups and increase breastmilk feeds: How to wean off formula supplements
1. World Health Organization. Q and A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses Accessed August 2020.
2. World Health Organization. Q & A: breastfeeding and COVID-19. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-on-covid-19-and-breastfeeding Accessed August 2020
3. UNICEF, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): What parents should know, Available at https://www.unicef.org/stories/novel-coronavirus-outbreak-what-parents-should-know Accessed March 2020
© Australian Breastfeeding Association March 2021
The information on this website does not replace advice from your health care providers.