Very Low Risk of Mother-to-Newborn Covid Transmission: Study

(AP file photo/Seth Wenig)

(CN) — Scientists revealed Monday there is very low risk of mothers passing Covid-19 to their newborns, even during breastfeeding.

Researchers from Columbia University Irving Medical Center tracked 101 infants born to mothers who had tested positive for SARS-Cov-2, the virus which causes Covid-19. Of those 101 infants, only two tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and they had no clinical evidence of illness. The researchers noted they could not absolutely identify the vector of infection for the two infants.

When Covid-19 emerged, pediatric and health organizations initially recommended the separation of mothers and newborns during their hospital stay, no direct breastfeeding, and bathing newborns as soon as possible. Normally, newborns are bathed after a minimum of 24 hours of life because it interferes with bonding, breastfeeding and increases the risk of dangerously low temperatures and blood sugars.

But the study published today in JAMA Pediatrics tracked newborns and mothers at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital this past March and April, and found that direct transmission rates were much lower than feared.

“Our findings should reassure expectant mothers with Covid-19 that basic infection-control measures during and after childbirth — such as wearing a mask and engaging in breast and hand hygiene when holding or breastfeeding a baby — protected newborns from infection in this series,” said Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, the Ellen Jacobson Levine and Eugene Jacobson professor of women’s health in obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

To reduce the risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to newborns after delivery, hospital staff practiced social distancing, wore masks, and placed Covid-positive moms in private rooms. 

Most of the newborns roomed with their mothers, including during the first postpartum checkup. Infants who roomed with their moms were placed in protective cribs six feet away from the mothers’ beds, but direct breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact with babies were strongly encouraged as long as the moms wore masks and washed with soap and water before holding or feeding their babies.

Study author Dr. Dani Dumitriu, assistant professor of pediatrics in psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and a pediatric newborn hospitalist, points out that recommendations of distancing Covid-19-positive mothers from newborns “were made in the absence of data on rates of mother-to-newborn SARS-CoV-2 transmission and are based on experience with mother-newborn transmission of other infectious diseases. But some of the recommendations conflict with what we know about the developmental benefits of early breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact. Our study shows that these measures may not be necessary for healthy newborns with Covid-positive moms.”

Gyamfi-Bannerman said the findings are good news because bonding and breastfeeding are so important for both mother and child.

“We think it’s particularly important that mothers with Covid-19 have the opportunity to directly breastfeed their newborns,” Gyamfi-Bannerman says. “Breast milk is known to protect newborns against numerous pathogens, and it may help protect newborns against infection with SARS-CoV-2. Most studies have not found SARS-CoV-2 in breast milk, and breast milk has been found to contain antibodies against the virus.”

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