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Breastfeeding and Caring for Newborns

Breastfeeding and Caring for Newborns
Updated May 13, 2021

Pregnant and recently pregnant people are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19—including illness that requires hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator or special equipment to breathe, or results in death—compared with nonpregnant people. Additionally, pregnant people with COVID-19 are at increased risk for preterm birth and might be at increased risk for other poor pregnancy outcomes.

Learn more about COVID-19 and pregnancy.

Caring for newborns when the mother has COVID-19

While much is still unknown about the risks of COVID-19 to newborns born to mothers with COVID-19, we do know that:

  • COVID-19 is uncommon in newborns born to mothers who had COVID-19 during pregnancy.
  • Some newborns have tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after birth. It is unknown if these newborns got the virus before, during, or after birth.
  • Most newborns who tested positive for COVID-19 had mild or no symptoms and recovered. However, there are a few reports of newborns with severe COVID-19 illness.

See the latest data on birth and infant outcomes among pregnant women with COVID-19.

Caring for your newborn in the hospital if you are diagnosed with or test positive for COVID-19.

Current evidence suggests that the risk of a newborn getting COVID-19 from their mother is low, especially when the mother takes steps (such as wearing a mask and her washing hands) to prevent spread before and during care of the newborn.

Decide if your newborn is rooming-in with you in the hospital.

Discuss with your healthcare provider the risks and benefits of having your newborn stay in the same room with you. Having your newborn stay in the room with you has the benefit of facilitating breastfeeding and mother-newborn bonding. Start this conversation before the baby is born if possible.

Woman holding newborn baby

If you are in isolation for COVID-19 and are sharing a room with your newborn wear a mask within 6 feet of your newborn.

Take precautions if your newborn is rooming-in with you in the hospital.

If you are in isolation for COVID-19 and are sharing a room with your newborn, take the following steps to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to your newborn:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before holding or caring for your newborn. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Wear a mask when within 6 feet of your newborn.
  • Keep your newborn more than 6 feet away from you as much as possible.
  • Discuss with your healthcare provider ways to protect your newborn, such as using a physical barrier (for example, placing the newborn in an incubator) while in the hospital.

Once your isolation period has ended, you should still wash your hands before caring for your newborn, but you do not need to take the other precautions. You most likely will not pass the virus to your newborn or any other close contacts after your isolation period has ended.

  • If you had symptoms, your isolation period ends after:
    • 10 days since symptoms first appeared, and
    • 24 hours with no fever, without fever-reducing medications, and
    • Other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving.
  • If you never had symptoms, your isolation period ends after
    • 10 days have passed since the date of your positive COVID-19 test.

Caring for your newborn at home if you are diagnosed with or test positive for COVID-19.

If you are in isolation for COVID-19, take the following precautions until your isolation period has ended:

  • Stay home to separate yourself from others outside your home.
  • Isolate (stay away) from other household members who are not infected, and wear a mask in shared spaces.
  • Have a healthy caregiver who is not at increased risk for severe illness provide care for your newborn.
    • Caregivers should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds before touching your newborn. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
    • If the caregiver is living in the same home or has been in close contact with you, they might have been exposed. They should wear a mask when they are within 6 feet of your newborn for the entire time you are in isolation, and during their own quarantine after you complete your isolation.
  • If a healthy caregiver is not available, you can care for your newborn if you are well enough.
    • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before touching for your newborn. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
    • Wear a mask when within 6 feet of your newborn and other people during your entire isolation period. The mask helps prevent you from spreading the virus to others.
  • Others in your household, and caregivers who have COVID-19, should isolate and avoid caring for the newborn as much as possible. If they have to care for the newborn, they should follow hand washing and mask recommendations above.

Once your isolation period has ended, you should still wash your hands before caring for your newborn, but you don’t need to take the other precautions. You most likely won’t pass the virus to your newborn or any other close contacts after your isolation period has ended.

  • If you had symptoms, your isolation period ends after:
    • 10 days since symptoms first appeared, and
    • 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medications, and
    • Other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving
  • If you never had symptoms, your isolation period ends after
    • 10 days have passed since the date of your positive COVID-19 test

Breastfeeding and COVID-19

Current evidence suggests that breast milk is not likely to spread the virus to babies.

You, along with your family and healthcare providers, should decide whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding. Breast milk provides protection against many illnesses and is the best source of nutrition for most babies.

If you are breastfeeding, you can receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Helpful tips for starting or restarting breastfeeding

You may find it harder to start or continue breastfeeding if you are not sharing a room with your newborn in the hospital. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Frequent hand expression or pumping will help you establish and build milk supply if you are separated from your newborn in the hospital.
  • Pump or feed every 2-3 hours (at least 8-10 times in 24 hours, including at night), especially in the first few days. This helps the breasts to produce milk and prevents blocked milk ducts and breast infections.
  • If you are unable to start producing milk in the hospital after birth, or if you have to temporarily stop breastfeeding during your COVID-19 illness because you do not feel well enough, get help from a lactation support provider. Learn more about restarting breastfeeding (also called relactation).

You should always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before breastfeeding or expressing breast milk, even if you don’t have COVID-19. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

If you have COVID-19 and choose to breastfeed:

  • Wash your hands before breastfeeding
  • Wear a mask while breastfeeding and whenever you are within 6 feet of your baby.

If you have COVID-19 and choose to express breast milk:

  • Use your own breast pump (one not shared with anyone else), if possible.
  • Wear a mask during expression.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before touching any pump or bottle parts, and before expressing breast milk.
  • Follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use.  Clean all parts of the pump that come into contact with breast milk.
  • Consider having a healthy caregiver who does not have COVID-19, is not at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, and is living in the same home feed the expressed breast milk to the baby. If the caregiver is living in the same home or has been in close contact with you, they might have been exposed. Any caregiver feeding the baby should wear a mask when caring for the baby for the entire time you are in isolation and during their own quarantine period after you complete isolation.

Keeping your baby safe and healthy

Do not put a face shield or mask on your baby

  • Children younger than two should not wear masks.
  • A face shield could increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)or accidental suffocation and strangulation. Babies move around, and their movement can cause the plastic face shield to block their nose and mouth or cause the strap to strangle them.
  • CDC does not recommend use of face shields as a substitute for masks.

Limit visitors to see your new baby

The birth of a new baby is a significant life event that typically brings families together to celebrate and support the baby and new mother. However, before allowing or inviting visitors into your home or near your baby, consider the risk of COVID-19 to yourself, your baby, people who live with you, and visitors (e.g., grandparents or older adults and other people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19).

  • Bringing people who do not live with you into your home can increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
  • Some people without symptoms can spread the virus.
  • Limit in-person gatherings and consider other options, like celebrating virtually, for people who want to see your new baby. If you do plan to have in-person visits, ask guests to stay home if they are sick and ask them to stay 6 feet away from you and your baby, wear a mask, and wash their hands when visiting your home. For more information, please see considerations for attending or hosting a small gathering.

Keep distance between your baby and people who do not live in your household or who are sick

  • Consider the risks of spreading COVID-19 to you and your baby before you decide whether to go out for activities other than healthcare visits or child care.
  • Keep 6 feet of distance between your baby and people who do not live in your household.
  • Ask your child care program about the plans they have in place to protect your baby, family, and their staff from COVID-19.

Know possible signs and symptoms of COVID-19 infection among babies

  • Most babies who test positive for COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms.
  • Severe illness in babies has been reported but appears to be rare. Babies with underlying medical conditions and babies born premature (earlier than 37 weeks) might be at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Reported signs among newborns with COVID-19 include fever, lethargy (being overly tired or inactive), runny nose, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, poor feeding, and increased work of breathing or shallow breathing.
  • If your baby develops symptoms or you think your baby may have been exposed to COVID-19:
    • Get in touch with your baby’s healthcare provider within 24 hours and follow steps for caring for children with COVID-19.
    • If your baby has COVID-19 emergency warning signs (such as trouble breathing), call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility. 
      • Notify the operator that you are seeking care for a baby who has or may have COVID-19.

Bring your baby for newborn visits

Ideally, newborn visits are done in person so that your baby’s healthcare provider can:

  • Check how you and your baby are doing overall.
  • Check your baby’s growth and feeding.
  • Check your baby for jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes).
  • Make sure your baby’s newborn screening tests were done (including a bloodspot, hearing test, and a test for critical congenital heart defects) and do any repeat or follow-up testing, if necessary.

Call and notify your baby’s healthcare provider before visiting if you think you or your baby might have COVID-19.

Ensure safe sleep for your baby

During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents may be extra stressed and tired. Making sure parents and babies get enough quality sleep, is very important. Take steps to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related deaths, by doing the following:

  • Place your baby on his or her back for all sleep times—for naps and at night.
  • Use a firm, flat sleep surface, such as a mattress in a crib covered by a fitted sheet.
  • Have the baby share your room but not your bed. Your baby shouldn’t sleep on an adult bed, cot, air mattress, couch, or chair, whether he or she is sleeping alone, with you, or with anyone else.
  • Keep soft bedding, such as blankets, pillows, bumper pads, and soft toys, out of your baby’s sleep area.
  • Do not cover your baby’s head or allow your baby to get too hot. Signs your baby may be getting too hot include sweating or his or her chest feeling hot.
  • Do not smoke or allow anyone to smoke around your baby.

Ensure your own social, emotional, and mental health