The Official Guidance
Mothers with suspected Covid-19 are encouraged to initiate or continue breastfeeding because the benefits of nursing substantially outweigh the potential risks for transition. This is because:
A) children appear to be low risk for Covid-19
B) bio active components in breast milk, “not only protect against infections but improve neurocognitive and immunologic development of the child.
C) “At this point it appears that COVID-19 in infants and children represents a much lower threat to survival and health than other infections that breastfeeding is protective against.” (1)
The Lived Experience
My boy was born in May 2019 and not long after I returned to work in 2020, the global lockdown was announced. Within days of the world coming to a standstill, my fiancé and I started to suffer crippling headaches, one after the other. Not ideal whilst caring for an infant, but not totally unmanageable…within a few days the headaches had subsided and were replaced with crippling chills, a fever and bodies which felt like they had been beaten up - repeatedly. Neither of us was convinced that it was Covid at this point, as there was not a cough in sight and our chunky boy had only mild cold symptoms. A few days later and the breathlessness and chest tightness crept in, followed swiftly by a cough that sounded like we had worked down mines for decades...If looking after a baby who doesn’t sleep is hard, looking after one whilst you have Covid and no support network is near impossible. We survived that particular stint by taking care of our boy in shifts of two to three hours, day and night. We focused on hydration and are fruit salads, soup and sandwiches.
Fast forward eighteen months when my fiancé and I both developed headaches days after my sisters had tested postpartum for the ‘Rona and we exchanged terrified glances. This time though we were able to confirm our suspicions with lateral flow tests. Something about knowing for certain what it was gave us both permission to hunker down and come up with a plan of action for survival.
1. Unlike the first time that we contracted Covid, this time around my mom and sisters happened to be staying with us temporarily. Unfortunately, that meant that the whole household got ill, but it also meant that there were more hands on deck to look after our boisterous toddler. We took turns, all five adults, being the ones who rested, cooked, napped and entertained our boy. It wasn’t easy, but it was a damn sight easier than trying to cope alone. I appreciate that not everyone is lucky enough to live with their extended family, even temporarily, but if you are able to get help from outside of your home, do. Do not be afraid to ask for help. You deserve it and so does your little one. Ask for home-cooked foods to help you heal, fresh fruit and vegetables and perhaps even laundry collections. Every. Little. Helps.
2. If you are the nursing parent, you may find that your usual ramped up breastfeeding appetite wanes whilst you are ill. This is no reason to feel alarmed or worried about your milk supply: as long as you prioritize sensible hydration and rest, your supply is unlikely to be affected by a few days of consuming less calories. In the meantime, keep taking your breastfeeding multi-vitamins and focus on eating small amounts of fruit and vegetables as often as possible. Stay topped up with paracetamol too: it is completely safe for you to take as a nursing mama (3).
3. Master the art of breastfeeding lying down and do it all the time. If you have not already done this, the time is now, particularly if you are experiencing painful muscle spasms, aches and pains. You know, the type that stops you from getting comfortable sitting upright with even a dozen pillows? Nursing lying down allows you to rest and nurture your child without the need to move a muscle. Be sure to follow the Safe Seven guidelines for sleep whenever you nurse lying down, just in case you fall asleep in your sickly state. They are as follows:
THE SAFE SLEEP SEVEN BEDSHARING SONG
(to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”) No smoke, sober mom Baby at your breast Healthy baby on his back Keep him lightly dressed. Not too soft a bed Watch the cords and gaps Keep the covers off his head For your nights and naps. (2)
4. Use screen time strategically. You may typically feel pangs of guilt for plopping your little one in front of a TV or iPad whilst you do anything that doesn’t involve them clinging to your bosom. However, whilst you are unwell, the simple fact of the matter is that you need to rest in order to recover. Even if you don’t feel especially unwell, you may prolong your symptoms if you do not make opportunities to rest. No, no-one wants to watch Cocomelon 24/7, but in a world where you may not have access to babysitters, the TV will do, temporarily.
5. Be kind to yourself and honest with those around you. Do not rush to get back to your normal levels of activity at the first hint of recovery. In my experience, recovering from Covid comes in peaks and troughs, slowly and over time. Rushing back to roughhousing with your toddler is unlikely to serve you as you do so. Relinquish yourself of any guilt in the knowledge that this period shall pass and once it does, your little one will have seen for themselves how important it is to take care of yourself when you are ill.
If at any point you feel like your symptoms are deteriorating and you are unable to care for your babe, do not hesitate to seek medical advice and support. Hopefully, within a week or so you will be back on your feet with a new found appreciation for getting outdoors and simply listening to the birds with your babe. Until then, get well soon.
My debut book, ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition (50 Practical, Evidence-Based Tips for Nursing Moms) is available here, now www.thebreastfeedingmentor.com/book