STORIES
April 17, 2020

Nurses Share Tips To Breastfeed & Pump While Working During COVID-19

Woman holding breast pump collecting milk
Chaunie Brusie By: Chaunie Brusie

These frontline workers are balancing feeding babies with the fear of getting them sick. 

When Jeteia James, an RN, FNP who works as a traveler in pediatrics and is mom to a 5-month-old baby boy named Jrue, needs to pump during her shift, she first changes out of her scrub top to minimize the risk of transmission germs, then dons gloves to assemble her breast pump. 

James, like many healthcare workers, is worried about bringing home COVID-19 to her family. But James is also one of a small percentage of nurses who are working while breastfeeding. And for breastfeeding moms, the worry of being the sole source of nutrition to their babies while working is even greater. Here’s how nurses on the frontlines are handling working while breastfeeding. 

Taking Every Precaution 

Danielle Smith, a NICU RN at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, MI, is also a breastfeeding mother to her son, 10-month-old Gavin. She tells Nurse.org that although she has not had to directly care for any confirmed COVID-19 patient, she is still taking every precaution to prevent passing anything on to her baby from work. 

Pumping at work

The room that she pumps in is open to all mothers of NICU patients, as well as her co-workers, so it does get used frequently. Because of this, 

  • She wipes down all the surfaces she will come in contact with in the pumping room with sanitizing wipes, including the chair, table, countertop, sink and her actual breast pump, which she brings from home and stores in her bag in the unit break room between pumping sessions. 
  • After the sanitization step, she washes her hands, pumps, stores her milk in sterile milk storage bags, and stores them in her own cooler bag, 
  • She then repeats the whole process in reverse again, washing down all surfaces
  • Finally, she washes her hands before she returns to work. 

Decontaminating after work

Smith also has a detailed “decontamination” process when she gets home.

  • She cleans both her shoes and badge with sanitizing wipes, places them in a plastic storage bin she keeps in her car (genius)
  • Wipes down her car surfaces with a sanitizing wipe too
  • She takes care to only hang her work coat in the garage
  • She steps directly into her laundry room, where she immediately puts all of her clothes in the washing machine on hot
  • After all this, she then showers

Breastfeeding after a long shift

It’s only after showering that she is able to then directly nurse her son before going to sleep for the day after her night shift while Dad or their nanny is on duty. Once home, she also takes care to clean and sterilize all her pump parts before the next night shift. 

It’s a lot to go through, and Smith says that once her hospital did begin seeing positive cases of COVID-19, she considered living separately from her husband and son to try to protect them. And she admits that she was initially scared to pump at work--but like any good nurse, she did her research and decided to follow her own instincts about what would be best.  

Why she chose to continue to breastfeed

“I decided that in the long run, it is important for my son to continue to get the breast milk I am producing for him during this pandemic since our bodies as breastfeeding mothers are constantly adapting the milk we make to suit the needs of our infant based off what both the mother and infant are exposed to,” she explains. “With that in mind, I have decided to continue living with my son and husband and will continue to feed my son my breast milk. I will continue to take every precaution possible to reduce his risk of exposure through me; and if we begin to see increasing cases of infants being hospitalized when testing positive for COVID-19, I may reevaluate my plan at that time.”

Is Breastfeeding Safe During COVID-19? 

Smith’s decision is in line with the current recommendations for leading health organizations that are telling breastfeeding moms to continue nursing their babies through this pandemic. For example, current guidance from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) supports continuing breastfeeding, even for mothers who have tested positive for COVID-19, with rare exceptions. Their guidelines for pumping state that mothers should wash their hands before touching the pump and parts, clean the pump thoroughly, and if the mother is infected, it’s recommended that someone else feed the expressed milk to the baby. 

Currently, the thought is that it’s more likely that a baby can be infected through the mother through the physical close contact that occurs with breastfeeding, rather than through the milk itself. According to the ACOG, what limited evidence we do have suggests that the virus is not passed through a mother’s breast milk, but we don’t know for sure yet. 

For the Babies

Both James and Smith are working in units that are operating under precautionary modes, meaning that they have not yet had any confirmed patients with COVID-19. But as the virus can be shed and spread through people who do not display any symptoms, the risk is always present for all hospital workers.

“My NICU is considered a low risk area by my hospital, and we are acting more precautionary at this point,” explains Smith. “We have plans in place for if we need to attend the delivery of a COVID positive mother, and how we will care for the exposed infant if the scenario were to arise. The hospital as a whole is seeing increasing numbers of COVID positive patients, and many units are being transitioned to what we are calling COVID units to take care of these growing numbers.”

And James points out that aside from doing all she can to reduce the risk of transmission and sanitizing everything in sight, the risk of getting the virus is present everywhere, even through the community, such as in the grocery store. So for these dedicated nurses and moms, continuing to provide their own babies with all the benefits that breast milk can provide is a priority. 

James says that she’s grateful for her nursing community that is recognizing the challenges that breastfeeding moms have on the job, and she hopes that other breastfeeding parents will feel encouraged to know they are not alone. 

“I encourage all pumping mamas to not give up and stay safe,” says James. “Don’t give up on breastfeeding--it’s the best thing for your baby’s immune defense, especially right now.” 

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