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Breastfeeding & COVID-19: A nursing mother’s ordeal

A breastfeeding mother

A breastfeeding mother

‘When the president announced the lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, I was shattered and confused’, she explains.

‘I was lost in thought on how I would take care of my baby who was about to be born. What if I catch corona, will I be able to breastfeed my baby?’ she worried.

Denzy, a mother of four-months-old Ethan is one of the many women breastfeeding during COVID-19 pandemic. But what is it like to be a nursing mother in this period? Denzy is bothered whether she can easily pass on the virus to her infant.

For mothers like her, this kind of fear is understandable. ‘Immediately I gave birth while still in hospital, my mind wandered. I was thinking of the many women who are in the same situation.’ ‘Women whose breastfeeding processes are difficult even when the world was “fine” due to factors like jobs and sickness, she revealed.

She is concerned about new mothers and their infants whose breastfeeding practices are being affected by COVID-19. The disease has overwhelmed the country making nursing mothers view breastfeeding as a risk of contagion.

With new cases of COVID-19 rapidly rising, it is natural to focus on what it shall be like for nursing mothers during the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) 2020 from 1st-7th August under the theme: ‘Supporting breastfeeding for a healthier planet’.

Like Denzy says her older son (10 years) one day asked her whether he could help her zip up her blouse thinking she was cold.

‘I don’t want anybody to come near my boobs’, she retorted. ‘I constantly get scared just by the thought of me infecting my child with the disease in case I have it and I don’t know’. ‘This makes me avoid my baby a little. I don’t want to act this way, but it sometimes happens and it just adds to the whole situation that is already stressful’.

It is important to collectively support women whether in the formal, informal sector or those staying at home to breastfeed. This will enable them enjoy their rights and those of their babies.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) breast milk is the best source of nutrition for babies and protects them against illness.  When breastfeeding mothers do not nurse their babies for fear of passing on the virus, it significantly distresses and upsets the process.

It is likely to cause low milk supply, rejection of suckling and reduction in immune factors. WHO has put measures for breastfeeding mothers during this COVID-19 pandemic which include: wearing a mask during feeding, washing hands with soap before and after touching the baby and wipe and disinfect surfaces regularly.

It explains that the virus has not been found in breast milk and encourages all mothers to continue breastfeeding while practising good hygiene.

Similarly, UNICEF recommends that if a mother suspects that she may have contracted coronavirus, she may wish to express her breast milk and feed the baby. Mothers who get coronavirus shortly after birth and those who become infected while breastfeeding will produce antibodies to protect their baby and enhance its immune response. Therefore, continuing to breastfeed is the best way to fight the virus and protect the baby.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is the best way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of babies. The Civil Society Alliance for Nutrition Uganda (CISANU) therefore appeals to everyone to support mothers to breastfeed their children right from birth. 

Women require the right atmosphere for breastfeeding but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, such a setting may be difficult to find. However, for breastfeeding practices to be embraced CISANU encourages government to engage expert support and guarantee that public as well as work places have regulations favourable to breastfeeding. 

georginemarine@gmail.com

The author is a program officer, Civil Society Alliance for Nutrition Uganda (CISANU)

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