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Feeding my preterm baby during COVID-19

During the coronavirus outbreak you may have a lot of questions about safely breast feeding your preterm baby. This is a stressful time and no doubt you want to keep your infant as safe as possible while ensuring they get the nutrition and love they need to thrive. Here are some helpful facts, tips and considerations given by UNICEF to keep your baby safe while feeding.

If you have symptoms of fever, cough or difficulty breathing, you should seek medical care early and follow instructions from your health care professional.

Benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks

  1. Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for all infants and has further benefits for preterm babies. During the COVID-19 outbreak, UNICEF suggests that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks. Preterm babies can be more vulnerable as their immune system is still developing. However, breast milk contains a range of components which support the immune system, reducing your baby’s risk of developing infectious diseases. The composition helps destroy harmful pathogens while boosting immunity. In addition, it can support the gut of preterm infants, aiding it to develop and mature.
  2. Skin-to-skin contact is important in supporting your preterm baby’s need for emotional connection.  It promotes healthy development and contributes to the wellbeing of both mother and child during the postnatal period. UNICEF recognises the profound benefits of this and recommend that mothers and babies stay together as much as possible while taking the necessary precautions.
  3. If you are unable to breastfeed while on the neonatal unit, you may want to consider the use of donor milk if available. Speak to your health care professional about whether this option may be appropriate for your baby.  

How to feed your preterm baby safely during the COVID-19 outbreak

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is transmitted through breast milk. However, just like everyone else, the infection can be spread through contact with respiratory droplets of an infected individual.

If you are feeding your baby formula, make sure you sterilise the equipment carefully before each use. You should not share bottles with anyone else. Always prepare formula feeds in line with the manufacturer's instructions. Use the right amount of formula and water and follow the directions on pack carefully to ensure the water used is at the correct temperature.

Here are some tips that can keep your baby safe while feeding.

  1. Wash your hands before touching the baby, breast pump or bottle.
  2. Wear a mask if you have symptoms of infection to avoid breathing, coughing or sneezing on the baby.
  3. Clean and sterilise all pump and feeding equipment correctly. Guidance from the NHS on how to safely sterilise your baby’s feeding equipment can be found here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/sterilising-bottles/
  4. Routinely clean and disinfect all surfaces.

If you have any further questions, contact your health care professional.