CHKD Blog

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Feeding Your NICU Baby During COVID-19

Author: Team NICU 101, Ashlynn Baker, BSN, RN, IBCLC
Published Date: Tuesday, July 14, 2020

By Ashlynn Baker, BSN, RN, IBCLC, Director, CHKD Milk Bank

It’s normal for parents to have many questions when it comes to helping their baby in the NICU grow and become stronger.

As everyone takes extra precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents wonder if it’s safe to provide breast milk for their NICU baby or if it’s better to rely on formula.

First and foremost, mothers should provide their own breast milk, if possible. This applies to all moms, especially those who have had, or think they may have been exposed to, COVID-19.

Not only is your breast milk safe, it is beneficial. Only your breast milk contains the unique antibodies that can lower your baby’s risk of becoming sick with COVID-19.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, health authorities worldwide recommend that you provide breast milk or breastfeed your baby. Your breast milk can help your baby’s immature immune system fight all types of infections.

Remember, if you can’t provide your own breast milk, you should rely on donor milk to feed your baby. Donor milk can also help protect your baby against infections.

Donor milk is also safe. The King’s Daughters Milk Bank, which supplies our NICU, takes many steps to ensure this:

  • First, donor mothers are screened both verbally and in writing per national guidelines.
  • Each donor is required to have a letter of good health completed by her doctor and her baby’s pediatrician.
  • Donors undergo laboratory blood tests to ensure that they are free from diseases that can be transmitted through breast milk. Donors must pass these required tests to send their milk to the milk bank.
  • All breast milk is pasteurized and tested in a microbiology lab to make sure it is free from harmful germs before it is provided to the hospital.

In response to the global pandemic, CHKD has instituted several safety measures throughout the hospital to protect patients, their families, and our staff. It’s important for mothers to take additional precautions if they are providing breast milk for their baby.

Please follow these recommendations to prevent germs, including COVID-19, from entering your pumped milk:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before pumping or handling breast milk collection equipment. It is critical that you perform proper and effective hand hygiene frequently while handling your pump, breasts, breast milk, and collection containers.
  • Disinfect the outside of the breast pump before and after each use. Whether you’re at home or in the NICU, use a germ-killing wipe on the outside of the pump.
  • Keep your breast pump collection kit clean. Wash your collection kit with warm, soapy water after each use. Rinse thoroughly. Allow the kit to air dry away from other dishes and out of anyone’s reach. Sanitize your kit at least once a day. Use a microwave steam bag, a boiling pot of water on the stove, or the sanitizing cycle on your dishwasher.
  • Do not cough or sneeze near or on your breast pump, the breast milk collection kit, or your milk storage containers.

Mothers who have tested positive for COVID-19, or are under suspicion of having the virus, should wear a face mask, if possible, whenever they’re disinfecting the pump and other surfaces, handling collected breast milk, and labeling or preparing to deliver their breast milk to the NICU.

For questions about breastfeeding or providing breast milk to your NICU baby, contact CHKD lactation services at 668-7405.

About Team NICU 101

CHKD is home to the region’s largest and most sophisticated neonatal intensive care unit, certified by the state as a subspecialty nursery. We provide intensive care for high-risk, critically-ill neonates and care for approximately 500 babies a year.