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Should Newborns Be Separated From Mothers With COVID-19?

In a new commentary, Alison Stuebe, M.D., president of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, lays out the pros and cons of separating newborn infants from their mothers who test positive for the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

In general, she notes that while separation may lower the risk of virus transmission from mother to infant during the hospital stay, it has known negative outcomes for both mother and infant, including disrupting breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact during the critical hours and days following birth.

Infants who lack skin-to-skin contact with their mothers tend to have higher heart and respiratory rates and lower glucose levels. Disrupting breastfeeding also puts the infant at heightened risk for developing severe respiratory infections, including pneumonia and COVID-19. The separation also stresses the mother which can make it harder for her to fight off the virus.

The new commentary is published in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine.

Overall, research on this topic is limited and recommendations regarding the first days after delivery differ among experts. Although multiple public health organizations recommend keeping mothers and infants together, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises facilities to consider separating mothers and babies temporarily until the mother is no longer contagious, and recommends that the risks and benefits of temporary separation should be discussed with the mother by her healthcare team.

In her commentary, Stuebe, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, noted there is no evidence to show that early separation of infants and mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 improves outcomes.

While infant-mother separation may reduce the risk of transmission of the virus from mother to newborn during the hospital stay, it has potential negative consequences for both mother and infant.

Stuebe, who is also distinguished professor in infant and young child feeding at the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, outlined several risks of separating mothers and infants in the hospital These include the disruption of breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact during the critical hours and days following birth. For example, infants who lack skin-to-skin contact with their mothers tend to have higher heart rates and respiratory rates and lower glucose levels.

The separation also stresses the mother, which could make it more difficult for her to fight off the viral infection. In addition, separation interferes with the provision of maternal milk to the infant, which is vital for the development of the infant’s immune system. Separation also disrupts breastfeeding, which puts the infant at increased risk of severe respiratory infections, including pneumonia and COVID-19.

“As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stuebe writes, “I am hopeful that we can center mothers and babies and remember to first do no harm.”

Arthur I. Eidelman, M.D., editor-in-chief of Breastfeeding Medicine, concurs that “there is no need or indication to categorically separate infants from COVID-19 suspect or positive mothers other than in circumstances wherein the mother’s medical condition precludes her caring for the infant. Feeding mothers’ own breast milk, either by nursing or by feeding of expressed milk, is OK and desired!”

Breastfeeding Medicine is the official journal of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers.

Source: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

Should Newborns Be Separated From Mothers With COVID-19?

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Should Newborns Be Separated From Mothers With COVID-19?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/04/11/should-newborns-be-separated-from-mothers-with-covid-19/155683.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 11 Apr 2020 (Originally: 11 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 11 Apr 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.