WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that it had carefully investigated the risks of women transmitting COVID-19 to their babies during breastfeeding.
“We know that children are at relatively low risk of COVID-19, but are at high risk of numerous other diseases and conditions that breastfeeding prevents,” Tedros told a news conference.
“Based on the available evidence, WHO’s advice is that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risks of transmission of COVID-19,” he said.
Anshu Banerjee, a senior advisor in WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said that only “fragments” of the virus had been detected in breast milk, not live virus.
“So far we have not been able to detect live virus in breast milk,” he said. “So the risk of transmission from mother to child so far has not been established.”
A study published on the journal medRxiv states: “It is currently unclear whether SARS-CoV-2 may be shed into breast milk and transmitted through breastfeeding.”
The researchers detected CoV-2 ribonucleic acid (RNA) in milk samples they collected over a period of four days, and not the virus.
However, experts say little is known about SARS-CoV-2 in breast milk and more studies and researches are needed.
Mothers who are too sick to breastfeed their babies are advised to pump breast milk and feed the infants from clean bottles.
Lancet examined milk from two nursing mothers who had been infected by SARS-CoV-2.
After feeding and nipple disinfection, milk was collected with pumps and stored in sterile containers at 4°C or −20°C until further analysis and viral loads were determined in both whole and skimmed milk.
Four samples from Mother 1 tested negative after admission and delivery (day 0).
But SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in milk from the second mother at days 10 (left and right breast), 12 and 13 while samples taken subsequently were negative for the virus, according to the research report.
“We detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA in milk samples from the second mother for four consecutive days.
“Detection of viral RNA in milk from the mother coincided with mild Covid-19 symptoms and a SARS-CoV-2 positive diagnostic test of the newborn,” states the research report.