There are incalculable benefits to prolonged close contact and breastfeeding for a mother and new baby. But that close contact has raised questions about the safety surrounding an infected mother interacting with her newborn. According to a new study published Thursday (July 23) in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, mothers diagnosed with COVID-19 who took the precaution of wearing a surgical mask and washing their hands safely breastfed their babies and did not transmit the virus to them over a two-week period.
The study followed 116 mothers infected with SARS-CoV-2 at the time of delivery. All of the newborns were swabbed and tested for the virus 24 hours after birth, and most were tested two more times, at five to seven days and at two weeks, with a telemedicine checkup at one month. All of the tests came back negative, and none of the babies were symptomatic. The babies who did not undergo the additional testing remained asymptomatic during the observation period.
“We hope our study will provide some reassurance to new mothers that the risk of them passing COVID-19 to their babies is very low,” lead author Christine Salvatore, the chief of pediatric infectious disease at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, explains in a statement.
While in the hospital, nearly all of the babies stayed in an enclosed incubator within the mother’s room. New mothers donned surgical masks and washed their hands before feeding, cuddling, or changing diapers. Once home, these hygiene standards were discontinued after 14 days, aside from a few parents who were still wearing masks after one month.
“[Maternal] infection does not appear to cause severe illness in these babies,” Marian Knight, a professor of maternal and child population health at the University of Oxford’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit who was not involved with the study, tells the BBC. “This small US study also indicates transmission of infection from mother to baby is uncommon with simple precautions such as the wearing of face masks by mums with Covid-19.”
The authors acknowledge the modest sample size and state that more research on modes of mother-to-newborn transmission is needed.
“At least so far, we don’t have any evidence that babies are getting the virus from the mother after birth and showing up at the hospital horribly sick,” Karen Puopolo, a neonatologist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine who was not involved with the study, tells Science News.
Puopolo was the lead author on the newest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which call for masks and hand hygiene, and was developed independently of this study. Previously, the AAP recommended that infected mothers pump breastmilk until they were no longer contagious, rather than directly feeding the baby.