For 34-year-old Celine Mfilinge, breastfeeding was not an option but a compulsion despite the uncertainty. Ms Mfilinge, is a nursing mother and tells Your Health that not once she was hesitant to breastfeed her child amidst this whole Covid-19 situation that has taken the world by storm.
“When the first case was reported in the country, I was only worried about how the virus spreads. But since most local radio stations used to talk about Covid-19, I sort of educated myself on a few but not all preventive measures to take,” Ms Mfilinge, the mother of 2, says.
Ms Mfilinge knows too well the importance of breastfeeding a baby, and even more important not to miss out on a clinic session and taking the baby for regular vaccines.
“I still remember clearly that it was my baby’s second clinic and by that time the first case was already reported in the country. When I entered the hospital, the nurses requested that they won’t attend to the baby and me till I had a mask on,” she recalls.
But that didn’t stop Ms Mfilinge to stop going for her clinics, in fact, she went to the nearest pharmacy, bought a mask and attended the second clinic session.
“I understood the severity of the situation and took it as a learning curve. It [wearing a mask] is a preventive measure and I practice it till date, when I visit the clinic and when I breastfeed,” she says.
The clinic sessions have been very helpful for Ms Mfilinge for her to exactly understand how to not only safely breastfeed the baby but also support her psychologically.
“I always wash my hands and breasts before and after breastfeeding my child in order to protect my child from the virus. It is basic hygiene that one needs to practice despite the coronavirus scare,” she says. Adding, “I ensure that I am clean and nobody touches my child anyhow.”
Ms Mfilinge has been advised during her clinic sessions not to leave home unless it is something important.
Most of the time she spends her time at home but when it happens she has to go to the market, she wears a mask. “When I come back from the market, I go straight to the bathroom take a bath and change clothes before I touch the baby. This applies to everyone at home and it has become a new routine to adapt to,” she said.
Ms Mfilinge is one among the many new nursing mothers who are taking necessary precautions and measures to ensure the safety of their child.
Continue to breastfeed
But there are those who might have signs and symptoms suggestive of Covid-19. Nursing women or pregnant infected with Covid-19 should continue to breastfeed their babies, an expert has said.
Dr Sebalda Leshabari, senior lecturer and leader in midwifery education, practice and research at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) says new mothers should continue to breastfeed their children because breastfeeding provides even greater protection to the infants in addition to boosting their immunity at that tender stage.
Dr Leshabari noted that as long as new mothers takes all Covid-19 preventive measures, a child cannot be infected or be at risk of getting the virus.
According to her, so far there is no direct link that proves breast milk or amniotic fluid can infect the baby when a mother is giving birth or breastfeeding a baby.
“Whether infected or not new mothers should and must breastfeed their babies. The only important thing for them is to wear masks, wash hands before and after breastfeeding a child on a regular basis,” she said.
She noted that the current evidence shows that Covid-19 is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory droplets and contact routes.
Breastfeeding safely is key
According to World Health Organisation, women with Covid-19 can breastfeed if they wish to do so as long as they practice respiratory hygiene and wear mask, wash hands before and after touching the baby, routinely clean and disinfect common surfaces.
Lactation consultant and paediatrician, Dr Mariam Noorani says breast milk has been shown to have protective substances that prevent illnesses in children. “Mothers should be encouraged to continue breastfeeding during this time because their milk provides the baby with nutrition as well as protection,” Dr Noorani says.
According to her, if a mother has symptoms suggestive of Covid-19, she can still safely breastfeed her baby.
“She should wash her hands frequently before and after holding her baby and wear a mask during breastfeeding. If a mother is too sick to breastfeed, she can be helped to express her milk for her baby,” Dr Noorani explains.
The anxiety any nursing mother would have during this time, is expected because they are concerned about the health of their child.
“What we know so far is that children are getting mild infections from the coronavirus and very few are getting very sick. Parents should understand that their children are also going through anxiety and stress of their normal routine being changed,” Dr Noorani explains.
If a baby or child develops high fever, difficulty breathing, severe vomiting or abdominal pain, they should be taken to a health facility immediately for evaluation.
Do not miss out on vaccines
Dr Leshabari stressed on not to miss out on your baby’s vaccines and attend regular clinics. “We do not know if it [coronavirus uncertainty] will end after one or two months therefore new mothers should not miss their baby’s vaccination during this pandemic,” she says.
Vaccinations are lifesaving and essential interventions which prevent many common childhood illnesses, Dr Noorani says.
“During this time, it is important that children should not miss their regular vaccines,” she urges.
She urged parents and caregivers to take their children for vaccination while maintaining the precautions that have been advised by the ministry of health.
“Adults who are accompanying children should wash their hands with soap and water, wear a mask and avoid crowds, always maintaining a one to two metre distance from other people. Children should remain with the adults all the time during the vaccination visit and children under two years should not wear masks,” Dr Noorani explains.