Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a rapidly spreading respiratory infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This virus is a newly identified member of the family of coronaviruses that often causes colds. Given the infectious nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a matter of concern for parents to keep their babies safe from COVID-19. Newborns can get the infection if they are exposed to droplets that get in the air when infected mothers or caregivers cough or sneeze. However, there is no scientific evidence that the virus can pass from an infected mother to her baby during delivery or pregnancy. A mother with COVID-19 can also breastfeed safely by wearing a mask when she is around her baby and washing her hands before and after holding her baby.
What are the signs of COVID-19 in babies?Most newborn babies who test positive for COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms at all and recover, but some babies become very sick. Preterm babies and babies with longstanding lung diseases may be at a higher risk of COVID-19. The symptoms of COVID-19 in children are similar to those seen in adults and include:
- Fever or chills
- Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
- Runny nose or congestion
- Poor feeding
- Fatigue - your baby will be sleeping more than usual
- Headache or body pain
- Sore throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Trouble staying awake
- Inability to keep down fluids
- Bluish lips
What precautions should be taken if the mother is COVID positive?The risk of a newborn baby getting COVID from an infected mother is low if proper precautions are taken. Breastfeeding is safe for the baby and essential because even mothers who have COVID-19 continue to produce special proteins (antibodies) in their milk that protect the baby from the virus and boost their immune system. If mommies are too sick for breastfeeding, they should seek feeding advice from their doctor. They may extract breast milk and have a non-infected person feed their baby. If the mother cannot or chooses not to breastfeed, babies can be formula-fed. Take these precautions before feeding:
- Wear a mask
- Clean hands thoroughly with water and soap
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser when soap and water aren’t available
- Disinfect all surfaces regularly
Infected mothers should keep a safe distance (> 6 feet) when they are not caring for their babies. Infants may need to be separated from mothers who are too ill and require special care. Separation may also be needed if the baby is at high risk of severe COVID-19 illness (e.g., preterm babies or babies with underlying illnesses). In such instances, a healthy caregiver may care for the newborn, while practising proper hand hygiene and wearing a mask.
How to test my baby? How to care for my COVID-positive baby?All babies born to mothers with COVID are tested when they are a day old. Samples for the test are collected from the baby’s nose and throat. If the first report is negative, the test is repeated when they are two days old.
If your baby starts showing symptoms of COVID-19, ask your doctor if testing is needed. Based on the symptoms, your doctor will decide if the baby can be treated at home or needs hospitalisation. If your doctor advises home care:
- Keep your baby comfortable with routine measures to ease fever and congestion.
- Have only one person care for the baby. Keep the rest of the family members away and protected.
- A mask or face shield is only used for babies over two years of age if they can breathe comfortably and have a caregiver in the room.
- If possible, use a separate bathroom for your baby.
- All family members should use a sanitiser or wash their hands regularly.
- Regularly disinfect all surfaces and objects that are touched often.
As a parent, you want to do everything possible to keep your baby safe during the current pandemic. Stay calm and follow all safety precautions. Remember, prevention is always better than cure!
- World Health Organisation. Coronavirus.
- World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Pregnancy and childbirth .
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Coronavirus in babies and kids: symptoms and prevention .
- UNC Health Talk. Spotting COVID-19 in babies and toddlers.
- UNICEF East Asia and Pacific. Breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, and caring for newborns.
- KidsHealth. Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: what to do if your child is sick.