Pregnancy and Lactation during Covid 19

Jyoti Shekar

There are so many questions in our minds relating to the pandemic and the situation all around us. One of the grey areas being pregnancy and lactation. Even under normal circumstances, pregnant women, lactating mothers and infants need to be protected well, but the need to do so is much higher and more critical now.

I spoke to Charulatha Jai, a renowned Certified Childbirth educator and International board-certified Lactation consultant from Chennai. Charulatha is a visiting consultant in Kanchi Kamakoti Child’s trust hospital and MGM Healthcare, Chennai. She also does independent consultations.

Without further ado, here are some snippets of our conversation, highlighting some basic guidelines from her on how to take care of yourself during pregnancy and lactation.

Jyoti: What are the basic guidelines to be followed by pregnant/lactating women and their families, for general health?

Charulatha: A woman have to go through various stages in their lifetime; and she needs particular health and well-being during each stage. Pregnancy is the most memorable stage in her reproductive period. I would insist that it is the stage to celebrate in her life. The body has to make vast alternations and adaptations during this period.

A healthy mind and body are the most important tools to progress during the entire pregnancy. So, once pregnancy is confirmed, she has to consult her doctor and start her early prenatal care check-ups. Moms who don’t get regular prenatal care are much more likely to have a baby with low birth weight and associated complications or other congenital anomalies. The baby in the womb needs vital nutrients for the growth of each and every cell. So planning a well balanced healthy diet is very important in the pregnancy journey. As advised by your doctor, taking daily multivitamins and supplements can ensure you get the right amount of nutrients in the body. Consuming healthy foods and low-calorie beverages, particularly water, and an appropriate number of calories may help you to deliver a healthy baby.

A non-strenuous regular physical activity will help you and your baby gain the appropriate amount of weight. It also reduces the mother’s risk of gestational diabetes, leg muscle cramps and postpartum depression. Discuss with your healthcare provider regarding diet and type of physical activity needed for you in each trimester.

Jyoti: How should they protect themselves from the Covid 19 virus. Are masks and sanitizers sufficient or are there any additional layer of protection needed?

Charulatha: Pregnant women need to follow the same safety precautions like common public.

  1. Wash hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  2. Wear a mask. Second wave is crucial. So double masking yourself is the best. Especially when you need to go to crowded places.
  3. Watch your distance. Keep space between yourself and others. In fact, avoid crowded spaces, if possible.
  4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth without washing hands.
  5. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Use tissue and dispose immediately after use.

Call your healthcare provider at the earliest if you have fever, cough, unusual body fatigue, loose stools, breathing difficulties or any other abnormalities.

Jyoti: What about the new born babies? I am sure masks and sanitizers are not practical for them.

Charulatha: In this case, mothers need to wear masks while feeding their babies.

Jyoti: If they need to isolate, what are the issues and precautions needed?

Charulatha: Keep these in mind:

  1. Breastmilk provides antibodies that give immunity and protect them against many infections. Antibodies and bio-active factors in breastmilk may fight against COVID-19 infection, even if the baby is exposed.
  2. Covid positive mothers and babies may continue to breastfeed. But wearing a medical mask and practicing hygiene while touching and feeding the baby is mandatory.
  3. Properly, and routinely, clean and disinfect any surfaces the mother uses.
  4. If the mother is severely ill, discuss with your healthcare provider and consider feeding the baby with expressed breast milk.
  5. For any particular medical reason, if the mother has to discontinue breastfeeding temporarily, then consider relactation (temporarily stopping breastfeeding and restarting after a gap).

Jyoti: Please tell us about any specific dietary requirements they need to keep in mind?

Charulatha: During these days, mothers have to take normal diet and general food supplements, vitamins etc.

Jyoti: Are these supplements safe for the mothers? Is there is any other nutritional advice you can give them?

Charulatha: It is always good to eat healthy diet, and nutrition recommendations for pregnant and lactating women remain the same even during Covid 19.

  1. Eat a well-balanced diet which includes energy giving food like cereals, fats and sugar, body building food like pulses, legumes, nuts, milk products and meat, protective food like fruits and vegetables.
  2. Hydrate with at least 8 to 10 glasses of water.
  3. Avoid taking packaged foods, processed foods, caffeine and alcohol.
  4. If you are in a particular way of eating lifestyle like vegan, discuss with your doctor and take supplements accordingly. Especially vitamin D is very essential during this pandemic.
  5. The dietary supplements have to be followed as per advice of your healthcare provider. Over the counter medication is not safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  6. In general iron, folic acid, vitamin D, etc. are prescribed by the doctors to provide adequate micronutrients. In case you plan to take any herbal supplements, discuss with your doctor before starting it because each product will produce different discomforts and side effects.
  7. Every mother has to continue the recommended dietary supplements and certain vitamin medications even during breastfeeding stages.

Jyoti: Anything else you would like to tell our readers.

Charulatha: Selfcare is not selfish. Take good care of yourself like eating a well-balanced diet, exercising, breathing exercises, managing your stress level, etc. Equip yourself to take care of your loved ones.

Self-protection by wearing proper mask, social distancing and maintaining hand hygiene is very critical.

Everyone should pledge that ‘we can fight the covid diseases by protecting ourselves and break the chain of viral spread around us.

You can connect with Charulatha on Instagram and Facebook @thaimaipregnancytolactation.

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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