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Breastfeeding in 2020 – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

August is National Breastfeeding Month! Let’s celebrate! This year is a bit crazy, and if you are breastfeeding a little one on top of it, well, that can certainly add to the craziness (check out Dr. Sara Fisher’s article about having a pandemic baby). All mamas deserve praise, no matter how they feed their children. No question. August is a special time to celebrate all things breastfeeding. Let’s talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of breastfeeding in 2020!

National Breastfeeding Month - The Good 

Breastfeeding is great for mom and baby. It’s an excellent source of nutrition for baby, offers protection against many illnesses, provides health benefits for mom, and is easy on the wallet. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months of life by many expert organizations (e.g., American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization [WHO]). And beyond that, breastfeeding with appropriate other foods can be continued for as long as mommy and baby want

What are some good things (i.e., silver linings) of breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Breastfeeding is still recommended during the pandemic, even if mom tests positive for COVID-19. It is unknown whether the virus is passed directly through breastmilk, but experts say it is unlikely based on what little information we have so far. If mom is COVID-19 positive, it is recommended to take general precautions: wear a mask, wash hands, regularly disinfect, and keep distance as much as possible (e.g., if possible, don’t share a room while contagious). 

  • Good hormones released during breastfeeding (e.g., oxytocin) help mom’s mental health. Sometimes referred to as “the love hormone,” oxytocin is released during breastfeeding and helps foster loving, nurturing feelings. That certainly can help mom during this very stressful time.

  • More time/contact to establish a positive breastfeeding relationship. Many people are spending more time at home to stay safe. Even though this may be a source of stress for some, this extra time can certainly allow for more bonding and solidifying a strong breastfeeding relationship between mom and baby. 

National Breastfeeding Month - The Bad 

Hopefully you have been able to identify some positive aspects to breastfeeding in 2020 despite all that is going on around you. It’s also important to talk about what makes it even harder during this time. If you’re able to identify what may be bad or ugly, then you can work on developing solutions and resilience

Here are just a few not-so-great things about breastfeeding in 2020 (and I’m sure you can think of some others too):

  • The unknown. There is still a lot we don’t know about SARS CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and pregnancy/breastfeeding. The unknown can be scary and stressful. We want to do everything we can to keep our families safe. If you have any concerns or want to know more, reach out to your primary healthcare provider. 
  • Logistical challenges. If you have had to return to work and need to pump, you may encounter some logistical challenges such as space (e.g., maintaining distance if required to share a pumping room with other moms) and cleanliness (up to COVID-19 standards?). Don’t be afraid to speak up and talk with your supervisor/manager if you need extra support this year.
  • Supply issues. Many factors can cause breast milk supply issues. One big culprit is stress, which is relatively abundant this year. Take care of your physical and mental health, and give yourself some grace. We will talk about this more below.  

National Breastfeeding Month - The Ugly 

Breastfeeding is hard work, no matter what. Add in a global pandemic to the mix, and things can get ugly fast. In general, some particularly ugly challenges for breastfeeding moms and their loved ones may include:

  • Isolation and lack of support. We are all more physically isolated from our support systems (i.e., friends, families) this year, which may hit new moms particularly hard. The sense of emotional isolation can make moms feel a lack of support. If you have a new mom in your life, reach out. If you are a new mom, ask for help. Get creative if you need to – have meals dropped off, have people run errands, get together safety (seeing another person even from a distance can make a big difference).
  • Mental health struggles. Conditions like anxiety, depression, baby blues, and postpartum depression can pop up or worsen, especially this year. Talk to your primary care physician or counselor if you’re struggling. You can meet virtually, and services are available around the clock. Mom’s physical and mental health is so important, especially when feeding the baby. Be kind to yourself!

You Got This, Mama!

Ok, let’s bring it back to the positive. Breastfeeding is beautiful, and mama, you are doing amazing. To all the partners out there, thank you for being mom’s support system this year. 

Keep being her biggest cheerleader. If you have questions about COVID-19 and breastfeeding, or want to stay updated, check out the special AAP, CDC, WHO, or other reputable websites. And as always, you can reach out to your healthcare team.

Reference List

1. National Breastfeeding Month. United States Breastfeeding Committee. Accessed August 14, 2020. http://www.usbreastfeeding.org/nbm

2. Fisher S. What I Learned After Having a Newborn in a Global Pandemic. August 5, 2020. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://www.usarx.com/blog/what-i-learned-after-having-a-newborn-in-a-global-pandemic

3. Breastfeeding. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/default.aspx

4. Breastfeeding. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated July 8, 2020. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/index.htm

5. Breastfeeding. World Health Organization. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_1

6. Awelewa T. Breastfeeding During the COVID-19 Pandemic. American Academy of Pediatrics. Updated July 31, 2020. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Breastfeeding-During-COVID-19.aspx

7. If You Are Pregnant, Breastfeeding, or Caring for Young Children. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated June 25, 2020. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html

Published August 27th, 2020 by Dr. Audrey Kostrzewa, PharmD, MPH, BCPS
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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