World breastfeeding week: nutrition care for breastfeeding mothers struggling with covid-19 infection

Women with pregnancy have been highly vulnerable throughout the entire covid-19 pandemic across the world, with major apprehensions observed during the breastfeeding phase. While the World Health Organization (WHO) has clearly stated that a woman should continue breastfeeding even if she is a suspected or a confirmed case of covid-19, efforts are still needed to spread this word! World breastfeeding week is a global campaign which is celebrated every year in first week of August. This campaign is aimed at raising awareness about breastfeeding and ensuring exclusive breastfeeding practices for the first 6 months. With the ongoing pandemic, it is nearly certain for all mothers to panic if they are a suspected or confirmed case of covid-19. We herewith present a few nutrition tips for mothers in order to promote quick recovery and good health without adversely affecting their breastfeeding journey. Before beginning it is extremely essential to state that all mothers need to take all following precautions while breastfeeding, if they are confirmed cases of covid-19 infection:
  • washing hands before and after touching the baby,
  • wearing a mask while feeding and
  • disinfecting the commonly touched surfaces
For good nutrition support, mothers should prefer:
  • Easily digestible homemade foods: Food should be well cooked. Raw foods may carry chances of contamination and may lead to abdominal discomfort in the mother which may further hamper the breastfeeding process. Hence, it is advisable to consume well cooked food.
  • Healthy fluids: It is important to ensure a high fluid intake during symptoms like fever. Mothers can prefer hot or warm fluids like vegetable soups. These soups may be prepared using veg or non-veg stock/ broth, this will ensure addition of proteins to the soups. In order to add extra proteins, mothers can also add dals to the soups; for example tomato and moong dal soup, brocolli and sprouted moong soup.
  • Good quality proteins: Why are we emphasizing more on proteins? Reason is our body needs protein sources to fight infection. Hence, during covid-19 infection it is vital to ensure intake of good quality proteins like cereal-protein combinations (complimentary proteins – in order to know more about complimentary proteins. Mothers should ensure at least 2-3 servings of dal/ pulses, 2-3 servings of milk and milk products daily. If required, they may dilute the whole(full fat) milk before consuming.
Foods that mothers should avoid:
  • Processed foods:  Processed foods like jams, jellies, sauces, pre-mixes, etc contain high amount of artificial flavors and colours. These artificial sources may pose an uninvited threat in the mothers health during the breastfeeding phase or even later and hence should be kept at bay.
  • Excessive sugar and salt: Excessive sugar and salt both may pose a threat to not only mothers but all healthy individuals too. Excessive sugar and salt consumption during fragile stages like covid-19 infection may lead to various other health concerns including mood swings, hence they should be avoided.
  • Excess fats: Mothers do not need any extra fats in order to breastfeed their kids. These extra fats on the other hand, can also hamper smooth breastfeeding. Normal fat diet containing vegetable oils/ ghee/ etc can be preferred over butter/ margarine/ dalda, etc.
Few frequently asked questions by covid-19 infected mothers during breastfeeding:
  • If the mother has to be quarantined, how can she feed her baby?
Under unavoidable circumstances, if the health care professional decides to quarantine the mother; she can express her breastmilk in a clean sterile (steel katori) container and a healthy relative (grandmother) can feed this milk to the baby at regular intervals. Under no conditions, should the breastfeeding get interrupted or stopped. Bottle feeding should be strictly avoided.
  • Should mothers switch to formula feeding during covid-19 infection?
Under no circumstances, it is advisable to switch to formula feeding in the first 6 months even if the mother is a confirmed case of covid-19. Even after the first 6 months, it is advisable to completely avoid formula feeds and instead give homemade healthy food to the baby.
  • Do mothers need extra foods for adequate milk secretion during covid-19 infection?
Mothers do not need any extra foods like bajra/ coconut/ methi laddos, etc in order to ensure adequate milk production. Milk supply can automatically keep the pace according to the demand by the baby. When baby demands more milk, the production can naturally increase in the mothers body – this is the beauty of nature!
  • Is it important for mothers to drink herbs based immunity boosting kadhas?
Immunity of the body can be directly attributed to our macro and micro nutrient intake which includes proteins, vitamins and minerals intake like vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, etc. Herbs based kadhas can be given a secondary priority; primary priority being adequate protein, vitamins and minerals.
  • Can mothers have outside food during covid-19 infection, if she is not able to cook food for herself ?
Owing to some debilitating symptoms of covid-19 which may not allow mother to cook food for herself, she may require help from outside. In such cases, she should ask for help from her relatives/ family/ friends and ensure she eats homemade food. Outside food/ street food/ restaurant based foods should be discouraged. However, some packed foods may prove to be handy, easy and beneficial and are healthy too like oats/ wheatflakes/ museli, etc. These can be stored at home and consumed whenever needed.
  • Why is it recommended for mothers to continue breastfeeding during covid-19 infection?
Breastmilk is the nectar that helps the baby sustain life and is a powerful protection towards a number of diseases. It is clear that breastmilk is completely safe during various infections like HIV, tuberculosis and also covid-19. On the other hand, artificial feeds or formula feeds cannot match to breastmilk in terms of its composition and can induce negative impact on childs health. Also, when a mother is infected with covid-19 and once the infection settles down; she automatically transmits the antibodies against the infection to her kid, so this in a way acts as a vaccine for the baby. Hence, breastfeeding should be continued, supported and promoted across all sections of the society.
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