Being a pregnant or new mom during the pandemic means facing all types of new challenges.
But there is one constant: breastfeeding.
Despite COVID-19, breastfeeding is still best.
The REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approach to Community Health) team of Project HOPE (Health Opportunities Powering Equity) in Savannah continues to advise new moms to choose breastfeeding even during COVID-19. The program aims to close the gap in health disparities among various populations in Savannah.
REACH follows the guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which continues to call breastfeeding the best option, even during the pandemic. There is no research that states otherwise; therefore, the limited data shows it is not likely that COVID-19 can be transferred through breast milk.
However, there are precautions breastfeeding moms should take during this pandemic.
“Mothers should be practicing good hand hygiene, washing hands frequently with soap and water and using sanitizer (60% alcohol) when soap and water is not available,” said Shawntay Gadson, a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit lactation consultant who works with Project HOPE and the REACH team’s various programs.
Mothers are also encouraged to wear a face mask if there is a possibility they have been exposed to COVID-19, Gadson said.
Pumped breast milk is a well-established option, but hygienic precautions need to be taken when pumping. A consistent pumping schedule helps as does having a support person put alarms in his/her phone to manage pumping times and to disinfect pumping parts if mom is unable to.
COVID-19 positive moms or moms who are concerned they were exposed are advised to talk about their options in coordination with their health care provider.
Taking the extra effort to breastfeed — even during this pandemic— is worth it due to the health benefits.
Breast milk is medicine, after all, providing antibodies and also helping to protect babies from several illnesses and infections.
Breast milk also helps to decrease the rate of childhood obesity; provides a mom and baby bond, and lowers the risk of postpartum depression.
Plus, it’s financially smart — with most moms saving an average of $1,200 to $1,500 a year by providing breast milk, Gadson said.
“As we continue to watch carefully for new CDC guidelines, we encourage moms to practice good hand hygiene and continue providing breast milk for their babies,’’ Gadson said. “Ultimately, be safe and make good decisions based on the safety of you and your baby. Be smart…and talk to your health care provider about decisions that can affect your baby.”
Closing the health disparity gap
The Savannah/Chatham REACH Project is a joint venture between the YMCA of Coastal Georgia and Healthy Savannah.
The REACH project is dedicated to closing the gap in health disparities that African Americans face, said Deidre Grim, REACH Nutrition Program Manager with Healthy Savannah/YMCA of Coastal Georgia.
“Many of these disparities are rooted in systemic barriers and racism that has been imposed on African Americans,” Grim said. “REACH is committed to having the hard conversation around racial equity to ensure that all Savannahians have access to healthy food options and the tools needed to lead a healthy life.”
The 2007 Breastfeeding Report Card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates African Americans have the lowest rates of initiating breastfeeding (74%) and continuing it at six months (48%) and 12 months (27%) compared to all other racial/ethnic groups in the United States.
One way to encourage more moms to breastfeed is to stop shaming moms for breastfeeding in public. Paid family leave is another way.
Research has also shown that mothers who receive paid family leave are three times more likely to start breastfeeding and two times more likely to continue to breastfeed for the first six months of the baby’s life, Grim said.
“In order to improve these statistics, REACH suggests that breastfeeding is more normalized, especially in public,’’ Grim said. “We also recommend that employers be more supportive of mothers when returning to work. Research has shown that Black mothers are disproportionately more likely to return to unsupportive employers of breastfeeding.”
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