COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Resource Center

Perspective from Emily Barrows, MD
Disclosures: Bartick reports being an unpaid board member of the of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
February 18, 2021
3 min read
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Study affirms that mothers with COVID-19 should not be separated from newborns

Perspective from Emily Barrows, MD
Disclosures: Bartick reports being an unpaid board member of the of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
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Temporarily separating mothers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 from their newborns and disrupting skin-to-skin care, rooming-in and direct breastfeeding was “associated with harm and may be unnecessary,” according to researchers.

The findings are from the COVID Mothers Study.

Among 36 mothers who were separated from their infants “due to COVID-19,”  58% said they felt “very upset or distressed”; 78% said they felt at least “moderate distress”; and 29% said, despite trying, they were unable to breastfeed their child after being reunited.
Reference: Bartick MC, et al. Breastfeed Med. 2021;doi:10.1089/bfm.2020.0353.


When less was known about COVID-19, the AAP recommended that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 be temporarily separated from their infants. Since then, AAP rescinded its recommendation.

Melissa Bartick

“When we launched the study, infants were routinely being separated from infected mothers without evidence that it would benefit them,” Melissa Bartick, MD, MS, FABM, a hospitalist at Mount Auburn Hospital and coauthor of the COVID Mothers Study, told Healio Primary Care. “We needed to answer the urgent question about whether this was necessary and if it caused any harm.”

Bartick and colleagues performed a retrospective cohort study of 357 mothers who had confirmed or suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection. The study participants were part of an anonymous, worldwide, online survey conducted between May 4 and Sept. 30, 2020. Most responses came from the United States, Europe and Latin America. There were no “eligible responses” from women in China, Japan or India.

Among mothers who had SARS-CoV-2 infection within 3 days of birth, 7.4% of their newborns had tested positive, according to the researchers.

Bartick and colleagues reported a nonsignificant decrease in risk for hospitalization among newborns who roomed-in, directly breastfed or experienced uninterrupted skin-to-skin care (P > 0.2 for all). Newborns who did not directly breastfeed, experience skin-to-skin care or room-in within arms’ reach were significantly less likely to be exclusively breastfed in the first 3 months, after the researchers adjusted for maternal symptoms (P 0.02 for each).

In addition, after adjusting for maternal symptoms, the researchers did not find “a statistically significant protective effect of exclusive breastfeeding” in the first 3 months of life on the combined outcome of contracting SARS-CoV-2 infection or getting symptomatic disease among infants aged less than 1 month. Also, among 129 women with confirmed or suspected infection, 27.9% reported separation from their newborn “due to COVID-19.” Among this group of women, 58% said they felt “very upset or distressed” because of the separation, 78% reported feeling at least “moderate distress” and 29% said despite trying, they were unable to breastfeed their child after being reunited. These mothers and newborns were separated an average of 6 to 7 days.

“We expected moms who did not receive [skin-to-skin care, rooming-in and direct breastfeeding] would be less likely to exclusively breastfeed, but the degree to which thiswas true was remarkable,” Bartick said. “The nonsignificant trend in the decrease in hospitalization for infants who received these practices was also surprising.”

Bartick also said a physician’s decision to keep mother and newborn from engaging in skin-to-skin care, rooming-in and direct breastfeeding should only be done “after a very careful consideration of risks to mother and child when there is a new pathogen.”

“Breastfeeding is not dispensable in a pandemic,” she added. “On the contrary, it is vital that it be preserved.”