FAQs on Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, Newborns and Coronavirus

Mother holding newborn baby

Getty Images 

Key Takeaways

  • Pregnant people are generally more vulnerable to viruses and infections, as are newborns.
  • This fact leaves people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, and caring for infants with questions about whether their family is at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

If you are expecting a baby or have a newborn in the house, you probably have many questions about coronavirus or COVID-19. This is a scary time for us all, but when you are pregnant or the parent of an infant, it makes sense that you might be especially protective and worried. If you are breastfeeding, you may have additional questions about the safety of your milk, and breastfeeding in general.

One challenge right now is that compared to other viruses, COVID-19 is new and is still being studied extensively. Experts don’t know as much as they would like to. That being said, there are some things experts do know about COVID-19 and how it seems to affect pregnancy, breastfeeding, and newborns.

Health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are offering updated guidelines and protocols regarding these questions. Let’s take a look at the advice the most trusted major health organizations are offering concerned new parents about COVID-19.

Stay Updated: Pregnancy & Breastfeeding, Information about Coronavirus Disease 2019

FAQs on Coronavirus, Pregnancy, and Delivery

Can Infants Get Coronavirus During Pregnancy? 

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or if you are concerned that you might contract it in the future, you probably wonder if you can pass the virus to your baby in utero. There is limited data so far about whether it’s possible for that to happen, but experts are cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 isn’t easily transmitted during pregnancy.

The CDC says COVID-19 is uncommon in newborn babies born to mothers who had the virus during pregnancy. However, with babies who tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after birth, it is not known if they contracted it before, during, or after birth.

The good news is that while some newborns with COVID-19 did have severe symptoms, the majority who tested positive for the virus had either mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all.

How Could COVID-19 Affect My Developing Baby?

Even if you don’t currently have COVID-19, you are probably wondering whether being positive for COVID-19 during pregnancy can harm your baby or pregnancy. Again, this is an area where there is very limited data so far.

Two small reports—one published in The Lancet, and one published by the World Health Organization (WHO)—did not find adverse health outcomes for babies born to mothers who tested positive for COVID-19. So this is potentially some good news.

However, as the CDC reports, there have been a small number of concerning issues reported among pregnant people who have COVID-19, including premature birth, which can adversely affect the health of newborns. It is unclear whether these premature births were directly related to COVID-19 infection or not. 

What If I Get Coronavirus While Pregnant?

In general, pregnant people are more susceptible to contracting viruses during pregnancy due to decreased immunity. It is known that pregnant people can experience complications if they contract viruses like influenza while pregnant. Unfortunately, little is known about what happens when pregnant women contract COVID-19.

Experts agree that since there is not enough research yet on the matter, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Pregnant people are generally in the at-risk category for severe disease from viruses and other illnesses.

While the risk of severe illness in pregnant people with COVID-19 is low overall, it is slightly higher in pregnant people or those who have recently been pregnant when compared to non-pregnant people. That is because of the changes that happen during pregnancy that make a person more vulnerable to serious illness from respiratory infections (like COVID-19).

Serious illness means that a person with COVID-19 may require hospitalization, intensive care, and/or a ventilator or other equipment to assist with breathing.

How Will Labor and Delivery Plans Be Affected? 

With COVID-19 still affecting hospital systems across the country, you may have questions about how this will affect your birth experience

Many hospitals continue to limit birthing mothers to only one or two guests. This can be difficult because it might mean choosing between having your partner with you in the delivery room or a labor assistant such as a doula.

FAQs on Coronavirus and Breastfeeding

Can Coronavirus Be Transmitted Through Breastmilk?

If you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed your baby, one of your top questions right now is probably whether or not COVID-19 can be passed from you to your baby through your breastmilk.

Although more research needs to be done on the matter, so far it appears that breastmilk doesn’t contain COVID-19. “In limited studies on women with COVID-19 and another coronavirus infection, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), the virus has not been detected in breast milk,” explains the CDC.

This is good news because your breastmilk provides important antibodies for your baby to fight viruses and disease—which is why all major health organizations are urging breastfeeding mothers to continue breastfeeding or feeding their baby breastmilk during the outbreak.

Can I Breastfeed If I Test Positive For Coronavirus? 

Although it appears as of now that COVID-19 is not passed to infants through breastmilk, if you are COVID-19 positive, there is certainly risk of you passing the virus to your infant via respiratory droplets. 

Right now, the CDC doesn’t have a specific protocol in place when it comes to COVID-19 positive mothers breastfeeding their babies and recommends that all mothers consult with their healthcare providers on a case-by-case basis. 

The World Health Organization states that mothers with COVID-19 can breastfeed. “Considering the benefits of breastfeeding and the insignificant role of breast milk in the transmission of other respiratory viruses, a mother could can [sic] continue breastfeeding,” explained the WHO in a March 2020 memo.

However, the WHO lists some safety precautions COVID-19 positive parents should take:

  • They should always wear a medical mask while feeding their babies
  • They should “perform hand hygiene” before and directly after feeding

If you have an active case of COVID-19 and your healthcare team is very concerned about transmission to your infant, they may ask you to pump your milk and have someone who is not ill feed your baby your milk.

Can I Pump If I Have COVID-19?

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) has some advice about pumping if you are positive for COVID-19: “If expressing breast milk with a manual or electric breast pump, the mother should wash her hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use,” writes the ABM. “If possible, consider having someone who is well care[d] for ... feed the expressed breast milk to the infant.”

FAQ on Coronavirus and Newborns

Will I Have to Be Separated From My Baby If I Test Positive for COVID-19?

The risk of a newborn getting COVID-19 from a parent who tested positive for the virus is low, especially when the parent takes steps to prevent the spread while caring for the baby. Those steps include wearing a mask and proper handwashing before and after interacting with the newborn.

A parent in isolation for COVID-19 should discuss the risks and benefits of having their newborn stay in the room with them after the birth. If they do share a room with the baby, they should take the following safety precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to the newborn:

  • Always wear a mask when within 6 feet of the baby.
  • Keep the newborn more than 6 feet away as much as possible.
  • Talk to your physician about ways to protect the baby, including a physical barrier or incubator.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands well and often before and after caring for your baby.

The risks and benefits of this separation is something that parents can discuss with their healthcare providers. The decision about when to end the temporary separation is also a matter that can be made collaboratively, on a case-by-case basis, with your healthcare providers.

How Can I Keep My New Baby Safe?

Even if you aren’t COVID-19 positive, you will want to take extra care to keep your baby safe during this time. Most of us are practicing social distancing during this outbreak anyway, but you shouldn’t be afraid to severely limit new visitors or say no to visitors altogether.

Family and friends will want to meet your new baby, and this is understandable, but for now, they will have to “meet” your baby by video chatting and other online communications. You also want to make sure you are practicing basic hygiene protocols such as hand washing and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

What This Means For You

These are trying times for new and expectant parents. You likely have many questions and concerns, along with a host of worries and fears.

You should never hesitate to contact your healthcare provider about these. Their goal is to keep you and your baby safe right now and help you make informed decisions based on the latest research.

Remember, too, that your mental health is as important as your physical health right now. If you find your concerns about COVID-19 are too overwhelming for you to handle, or if you suspect you are experiencing symptoms of prepartum or postpartum depression or anxiety, please contact your doctor right away for help.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding and caring for newborns.

  2. Qiao J. What are the risks of COVID-19 infection in pregnant women?. Lancet. 2020;395(10226):760-762. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30365-2

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.