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Feeding young babies during the COVID-19 pandemic: Tips for parents and caregivers

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A baby lies down and looks to the side.
Keeping a child healthy can be stressful, especially during COVID-19. (Photo credit: Unsplash)

COVID-19 is raising all kinds of questions and concerns, including for new and expectant parents. Families are likely concerned about keeping their babies safe. They might wonder, “What do I need to know if I’m breastfeeding? …If I’m expressing breast milk? …If I’m feeding with infant formula?”

Below, we offer some tips for infant feeding during the COVID-19 pandemic. In situations where COVID-19 infection is suspected or confirmed, the following guidance applies and some additional precautions may be recommended.

General wellness tips for all families

In most situations, it’s recommended that babies stay closely together with their parents. Regardless of how their babies are fed, families are encouraged to:

  • Continue skin-to-skin contact.
  • Wash hands often, and clean and sanitize high-touch surfaces regularly.
  • Stay connected with support persons, while maintaining physical distance from non-household members.

Tips for families who breastfeed and provide expressed breast milk

Breastfeeding supports emergency preparedness, as it can be a secure food supply for babies. It also helps to protect them from various illnesses. Families are encouraged to:

  • Continue to breastfeed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Delay weaning, if possible.
  • Feed directly at the breast, when possible. This offers the most immune protection for both baby and parent.
  • If feeding at the breast is not possible, express and feed breast milk (with careful attention to cleaning and sterilizing any feeding equipment).
  • Consider taking steps to increase breast milk supply, especially if offering both breast milk and infant formula.

Tips for families who use infant formula

As always, formula needs to be safely prepared, handled, and stored to help keep babies healthy. Families who use infant formula are encouraged to:

  • Prepare, handle, and store formula with extra care, and to pay careful attention to cleaning and sanitizing equipment.
  • Aim to have about a two-week supply of store-bought formula and supplies on hand.
  • Buy only what is needed, so that supplies are also available to other families who need them. 
  • If usual products are temporarily unavailable at local stores, consider that most babies can switch to a different brand or formulation, if needed. Ordering through the stores, or online, may also be an option.

A little support goes a long way

In times of physical distancing, parents continue to need connection and support, perhaps now more than ever! Parents benefit from support from their families, friends, and peers. If additional support is needed, there are also professional and community-based supports available:

  • Continue to reach out to local health care providers for any urgent concerns, or call 8-1-1 to speak with a nurse or dietitian at HealthLinkBC.
  • Consider exploring virtual or online options for connecting with local pregnancy outreach, parenting support, and other community programs.
  • Connect virtually via La Leche League’s Facebook group or local leaders for support related to breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and/or human milk feeding.

Have other questions? Email us at NHBreastfeeding@northernhealth.ca

(This story was co-authored by Lise Luppens, Population Health Dietitian; Regional Lead, Early Years Nutrition.)