Marien Hou, Shanghai, China
More contagious, but less deadly than the 2003 SARS outbreak, the coronavirus COVID-19 has infected at least 46,997 (at time of writing February 13, 2020) people around the world, with the majority of those affected located in Wuhan, China. Cities get locked down; local and international transportations halted; shops closed down; and school suspended indefinitely nationwide. Some people panicked and online fake news has circulated. In relation to infants, the suggested nationwide protocol was to quarantine infected or suspected mothers from their nursing babies for 14 days, and to stop breastfeeding altogether. As a Leader, I was saddened to hear this: newborns cannot receive precious immunity-rich colostrum when they are separated from their mothers. In order to challenge this, Leaders can share information and support mothers to continue breastfeeding.
We can share articles relating to the benefits of breastfeeding via instant messaging programs (e.g., WeChat in China) or social media. In particular, information from trusted sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, and other breastfeeding professionals. Translation, proofreading, and publishing work needs to be done in a timely manner, as the epidemic situation becomes worse day by day. This is one of the rare times the Leaders’ WeChat group in China has become very active again with great coordination and opinions from everyone! There is more to consider than just the mother-baby nursing dyad. The government is taking measures to control the spread of the virus, although it sometimes seems as if the benefits of breastfeeding are forgotten. Leaders can remind everyone—the best thing you can do during this crisis is to continue breastfeeding! The World Health Organization explains:
WHO Home care for patients with suspected novel coronavirus (nCoV) infection presenting with mild symptoms and management of contacts, February 2020
“Considering the benefits of breastfeeding and insignificant role of the breast milk in transmission of other respiratory viruses, the mother [could] can continue breastfeeding. The mother should wear a medical mask when she is near her baby and perform hand hygiene before and after close contact with the baby. She would also need to apply the other hygienic measures described in this document.”
Support mothers to continue breastfeeding
This is the perfect time to send positive messages to all breastfeeding mothers over the world. Although we may sometimes find breastfeeding challenging or doubt whether we are doing the right thing, in an emergency situation we can be thankful that:
- Human milk continues to be available—we don’t need to worry about shortage of formula in case of lockdown.
- Breastfeeding can protect our babies during sickness and crisis.
- Breastfeeding builds physical, social, and mental health foundations for babies that can have lasting effects until adulthood.
As Leaders, we encourage mothers to see the positive side of breastfeeding, and that those sleep-deprived days are just small struggles compared to the CoViD-19. Mothers will feel relieved and thankful that they are breastfeeding.
For further information see LLLI’s media release Continuing to Nurse Your Baby Through Coronavirus (2019-nCoV; COVID-19) and Other Respiratory Infections. Available translations (accessed from the same link) include Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Hungarian, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese, German with more planned.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Marien Hou moved to Shanghai, China, with her husband in 2009. In July 2016, she was accredited as an LLL Leader. She has three children aged ten, seven and five years. Marien dedicates her free time to helping local and expat mothers breastfeed. She also helps with Chinese/English translation of LLL articles.
 Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is caused by the SARS coronavirus, known as SARS CoV
 The virus was named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) as “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2,” abbreviated as SARS-CoV-2. This virus causes “Coronavirus Disease 2019,” which was named by the World Health Organization and abbreviated as COVID-19.