Separating COVID-infected mothers from their newborns resulted in low rates of breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact during the peak of the pandemic, finds a multinational study published today in eClinicalMedicine.
Led by researchers from Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Australia, the study involved 692 mother-newborn pairs at 13 neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in 10 countries from Mar 10, 2020, to Oct 20, 2021. All mothers and 27 of the infants (4%) tested positive for COVID-19, and 14 (52%) of the infected infants had no symptoms.
Participating countries were involved in the EPICENTRE trial and were located in Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America.
Policies eased as pandemic progressed
Most NICUs had policies that encouraged breastfeeding and close contact between mothers and babies. Nearly half of the newborns (46%) stayed in the same room as their mothers, a practice that rose from 23% in March to June 2020 to 74% in January to March 2021.
Of the 369 separated newborns, 93% had no physical contact with their mother before separation, 86% were asymptomatic, and most cases were mild. More than half of infants (53%) received breastmilk, climbing from 23% in March to June 2020 to 70% in January to March 2021. Separations were most common with mothers who had COVID-19 symptoms at delivery.
Encouragingly, clinicians did gradually adapt to allow more family-centred care as the pandemic progressed, particularly the use of breastmilk.
"Almost half of all newborns in the trial were denied early and close contact with their mother, demonstrating how hard it was to balance infection control measures with mother-baby bonding recommendations, especially in the first year of the pandemic," senior author D.G. Tingay, MBBS, PhD, said in a Murdoch news release.
"Encouragingly, clinicians did gradually adapt to allow more family-centred care as the pandemic progressed, particularly the use of breastmilk," he added.
Lead author Georgie Dowse said breastmilk supports infant growth and development and can help protect against conditions like asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome. "Skin-to-skin contact helps babies adjust to life outside the womb and supports mothers to initiate breastfeeding and develop close, loving relationships with their baby," she said.