New Delhi: Breastfeeding or sourcing breast milk from milk banks with standard precautions is safe in COVID-19 times, experts said. A human milk bank or breast milk bank is a service which collects, screens, processes, and dispenses by prescription human milk. This human milk is donated by nursing mothers who are not biologically related to the recipient infant.
Ketan Bharadva is the president of ‘Human Milk Banking Association (India)’ and head of ‘Infant and Young Child Feeding Chapter of Indian Academy of Paediatrics’. He said for infants who cannot get mother’s milk for whatever reason, the next best option is pasteurized donor human milk. However, the pasteurized donor human milk should be procured from a scientifically operated standard milk bank. Bharadva further said that there is convincing evidence in pre-print scientific journals that COVID-19 virus is killed by pasteurizing milk by holder pasteurisation method.
“Sourcing milk from milk banks is safe during COVID. If mother’s milk is not available for whatever reason, the next best option for such infants is pasteurized donor human milk from a scientifically operated standard milk bank,” Bharadva said Sunday.
Holder pasteurization is the process of removing potentially harmful germs from milk by heating it to 62.5 degrees Celsius for half an hour, and then cooling it back down to room temperature.
Babies whose mothers have lactation failure or those with surgical gastrointestinal issues like short gut syndrome, sepsis, and post surgical gut healing in omphalocele, gastroschisis, bowel obstruction and intestinal fistulas are given this milk, he added.
Shailesh Jagtap is the senior technical and programme advisor at ‘Alive and Thrive India’. It is a global nutrition initiative that aims to ensure healthy growth of mothers and children. He said till date there is no evidence of vertical transmission of active virus from COVID-19 positive mothers to their unborn or newborn and also through breast milk.
“SARS-CoV-2 virus which is causing the current pandemic is transmitted as airborne by coming in close contact with COVID-19 positive patients. COVID-19 infected mother can provide skin to skin contact and breastfeed immediately after delivery. The child can remain with mother in the same room by practising hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene using surgical masks, unless medically required for the newborn to be separated,” asserted Jagtap.
He said that in case a woman is not able to breastfeed her child due to her illness she can use breast pumps for collecting milk. This can then be fed by COVID-19 negative relatives taking all precautionary measures using clean vessels.
“The benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risk of the infection to the baby due to formula feeding or any other animal milk,” informed Jagtap.
Jaha Khan, a lactation consultant, said breastfeeding is a very important part of a child’s life. This is because it supplies the immunity and nutrition that the child needs in the initial period.
“In view of COVID-19, many mothers are seen to be apprehensive of breastfeeding their child. However, I assure them that even with necessary precautions COVID-19 positive mothers can feed their child,” she said. Khan said sourcing milk from the bank is also safe upon following the right procedure.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had Tuesday said that the risk of COVID-19 infection from breastfeeding is negligible. It said such instances have never been documented, calling for greater support for the practice.