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Let’s face it, giving birth during a global pandemic was probably not what anyone had in mind when they first found out they were expecting a baby in 2020. From the challenges of social isolation during pregnancy, to deviating from their dream birth plan; there are lots of elements about having a baby in 2020 that are proving extremely challenging for new Moms and Moms to be.
With many new Moms having to isolate at home with their newborns, separated from the support network of friends, family, baby classes and support groups, it raises the question about whether COVID-19 will have a positive or negative impact on breastfeeding rates, which are already globally at a fairly low rate.
As someone who has breastfed both of my daughters, one of the biggest factors that helped me establish and continue to successfully breastfeed was support; both from family members and friends who had already experienced breastfeeding, but also breastfeeding clinics, advice from medical staff and discussions at my postnatal checks. Whilst high quality online breastfeeding support is available, the lack of physical interaction and a lack of in-hospital lactation guidance may make women, particularly those breastfeeding for the first time, stop sooner, particularly when there is no help in overcoming those initial hurdles which all too inevitably arrive.
That said, I actually think there are a number of reasons why breastfeeding rates could actually increase during lockdown and here are the reasons why:
- Calmer Mom – With less visitors, less requirement to keep up appearances and less pressure to make themselves look any different from the exhausted and sleep deprived new Mom that they are, new Moms can focus on bonding with their baby and establishing a strong breastfeeding connection. As much as I loved having visitors when my babies were born (and as much as I would miss that physical contact), there were more than a few occasions when I hid away in the room next door with my baby after a feed, extending the duration of calm before I had to return to entertaining my guests!
- Less concern over public feeding – One of the factors that some new Moms struggle with when breastfeeding their baby is the thought of feeding in public. Whilst feeding in public is completely acceptable, for many, the thought of having to feed whilst out and about or in the presence of others is an uncomfortable prospect and something they seek to avoid. With the enforced requirement to stay safe at home, new Moms can feed their babies without needing to worry about covering up, hiding their breasts or unwanted judgement, instead focusing on the task in hand.
- Demand for formula – Since the COVID-19 outbreak, globally we have seen huge amounts of stockpiling, with many people changing their normal shopping habits and buying larger quantities of products such as nappies, wipes and formula, worrying that stocks are going to run low. This behaviour by it’s very nature means that stores have, at times, struggled to keep up, meaning it hasn’t always been possible to get specific brands or types of milk. Some of the many positives of breastfeeding is that supply is somewhat easier to control, and can save parents taking extra trips to the store too!
- Antibodies in breastmilk – Lots of work is being conducted globally at present about whether consuming breastmilk from an infected mother would enables antibodies to pass to the baby; and whilst yet unproven, this is really interesting. The World Health Organisation have advised that with precautions, it is safe to continue feeding your child when you have coronavirus. If there is any chance at all that parents can protect their child and boost their immune system by feeding in this way, this may be enough to encourage Moms to feed for longer or more often than they previously would have.
- Reduced pressure to wean – As someone who is still breastfeeding my 3 year old at bedtime, the lockdown has reduced any sense of urgency to encourage weaning, largely due to the potential for antibodies and the desire to reduce any additional pressure on us as parents! With home schooling and working from home in the mix, many Moms may decide that now isn’t the time to make more changes to their child’s routine.
- Comfort, calm and oxytocin – Finally, when it comes to breastfeeding, one of the biggest benefits for Mom is the oxytocin – the feel good hormone – that is produced during feeds. Now more than ever, those calm, quiet moments in a darkened room with a baby curled up on your chest before bed are great for reducing anxiety and allow a few moments of mindfulness, focusing less on worrying and what the future might bring. Comforted by being close to their Mom, the closeness of breastfeeding before bed can also help babies to feel safe and reassured.