Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has urged mothers to continue breastfeeding their infants amid concerns that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through breast milk.
The minister was speaking during a virtual meeting on Tuesday to mark the start World Breastfeeding Week.
“Under the current circumstances we are mindful that families, mothers, caregivers and even some healthcare workers in particular are worried and asking many questions whether the coronavirus can be passed on through breastmilk and how can they protect themselves and their babies,” he said.
“I can assure you that the COVID-19 virus has not been found in breastmilk and research evidence has shown that the virus is not transmitted through breastmilk or by giving breastmilk that has been expressed from a mother who is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19.”
Academic experts in South Africa have established a pregnancy register to evaluate potential harm to pregnant women and their babies caused by COVID-19 infection – with the issue of breastfeeding coming into sharp focus.
Based on these studies, mothers who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are encouraged to continue breastfeeding while practicing good respiratory hygiene like:
• Wearing masks
• Washing hands frequently with soap and water or using hand sanitizer
• Routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
Mkhize said despite the challenges the health system is facing, the National Breast Bank has been able to keep ample stock of breastmilk throughout the period of the pandemic.
“Donated breastmilk is a critical resource in managing children who cannot breastfeed for various reasons but whose optimal treatment includes the administration of breastmilk. The vast majority of these patients are premature babies who benefit enormously from the properties contained in breast milk,” Mkhize said.
“I would therefore like to encourage all health care workers to contact the nearest Breast Bank if they require breast milk for their patients and to assure them that there is adequate stock at this stage.”
Mkhize also used the platform to urge parents to vaccinated their children.
“We have noticed that some babies and children are missing their immunisations and growth monitoring during this time. Many of the illnesses we vaccinate against – such as measles, polio and meningitis – are much more dangerous for children than COVID-19. I urge all mothers, fathers and caregivers not to default on their children’s vaccination schedules for fear of visiting a facility and contracting COVID-19,” Mkhize said.
“Our facilities all have a triage mechanism whereby patients with flu-like illnesses are separated from patients presenting for other reasons. This is to ensure that access to quality health care is not compromised during the COVID-19 surge.”