Let’s take a look at what you can do to protect your baby from coronavirus, whether you’re expecting, have a newborn, are breastfeeding, have a toddler or older child.
Please note that the information included in this blog post is for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as medical advice.
Coronaviruses cause a wide variety of illnesses in humans, including the common cold and more dangerous illnesses like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndromes (SARS).
What are the symptoms of COVID-19 in children and babies
Most children who have been infected with COVID-19 have had a low-grade fever and dry cough.
Fortunately, not everyone who contracts the virus will show symptoms.
Who is most at risk of catching coronavirus?
You and your children are most likely to catch COVID-19 if you come into close contact with someone who has coronavirus.
Are babies and children more at risk of coronavirus?
Children do not appear to be at higher risk of contracting the new coronavirus, in fact, healthy children appear to be at a lower risk of experiencing severe symptoms of COVID-19. However, because babies and children have underdeveloped immune systems and are less likely to follow good hygiene practices, as parents we need to be extra vigilant about hygiene on their behalf. This is especially true because young children are likely to be very good at transferring the virus to other people.
Are pregnant women more at risk of catching coronavirus?
Because COVID-19 is so new, there are so many unknowns. Researchers don’t yet know whether pregnant women are more at risk of catching this new coronavirus.
We do know that pregnant women are more likely to contract some infections, and we also know that pregnant women are more likely to be severely affected by some other coronaviruses and by other viral respiratory infections like the flu.
As a result, if you’re pregnant or think you might be pregnant, you would be wise to be extra careful when protecting yourself from COVID-19.
Can coronavirus cause problems during pregnancy or affect an unborn baby?
Experts don’t yet know whether COVID-19 causes pregnancy complications or if it can affect a baby’s health before or after birth. A small number of babies whose mothers had the new coronavirus during pregnancy have been born with health problems (e.g. they were born early), however, it’s not clear whether those health concerns were a result of the mother’s infection. Also, in every such case, the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in samples of breastmilk or amniotic fluid and none of those babies tested positive for COVID-19 — in fact, there have not been any reported cases of mothers infected with COVID-19 giving birth to babies who tested positive for this virus.
How is coronavirus spread?
Researchers believe coronavirus mostly spreads from person to person through ‘respiratory droplets’ when they’re in close contact (within about six feet). These droplets can be spread when someone who’s infected with COVID-19 coughs or sneezes. Small children may also spread the illness if they touch their saliva and then touch someone else.
People are believed to be most contagious when they are sickest. There is some evidence to suggest that it may be possible for people to spread the new coronavirus disease before they start showing symptoms of the illness, however, researchers don’t believe this is the main way the illness spreads.
It may be possible to catch coronavirus if you touch a contaminated object and then your mouth, nose or eyes, but again, experts don’t think this is the main way the illness spreads.
Can pregnant women spread coronavirus to their unborn baby or newborn?
So far, only one newborn baby has tested positive for the new coronavirus at birth (and experts don’t know whether the baby caught the disease before, during or immediately after birth), and the virus that causes COVID-19 has not been found in amniotic fluid, so experts don’t yet know whether pregnant women can pass COVID-19 to their unborn baby or to their newborn during delivery. After birth, newborns are as much at risk of contracting coronavirus from an infected person as anyone else.
Can babies catch coronavirus from breastmilk?
The virus that causes the new coronavirus disease has not been detected in breastmilk. But experts don’t know whether it’s possible for babies to catch the illness by drinking breastmilk from a woman who has the illness.
Being exposed to someone with coronavirus disease doesn’t mean you or your baby will catch COVID-19
While coronavirus is highly contagious, coming into contact with someone who has the disease does not guarantee you’ll catch COVID-19. In fact, if you take appropriate precautions, there’s an excellent chance you won’t contract the disease.
For example, the first US case of COVID-19 was detected on January 23, 2020 in a woman who had returned from Wuhan, and the first evidence of person-to-person transmission in the US was reported on January 30, when her husband tested positive for the virus. However, none of the 372 people who came into contact with these two people tested positive for coronavirus disease. That’s pretty good odds, really.
How long after being infected with coronavirus do people get sick?
The maximum incubation period for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is believed to be about 12 days, but the average incubation period is five to eight days. That means, if you come into close contact with someone who has the new coronavirus and you catch the disease, you’re likely to get sick about 5-8 days later (if you get sick — not everyone does).
If you get sick enough to need intensive care, you’re likely to be in hospital about 10 days after contracting the virus that causes the new coronavirus disease. People who have died from the disease have typically done so between two and eight weeks after showing symptoms. The COVID-19 death rate is estimated at around 6% though we won’t have an accurate assessment until after infections peak and the death rate in people who don’t have other underlying conditions is only 0.9%.
How to protect you and your baby from coronavirus
The first step to keeping your baby safe from COVID-19 is to protect yourself.
How to protect yourself from coronavirus
To protect yourself against coronavirus, you should:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds — this is especially important after you’ve been to the toilet, blown your nose, or been in a public place.
- Use a hand sanitiser made from at least 60% alcohol if you haven’t got access to soap and water — the proper way to do this is to entirely cover your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes, especially if you haven’t recently washed your hands immediately beforehand.
- Avoid getting into close contact with people who are sick.
- Keep your distance from other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community (e.g. avoid shaking hands) and avoid crowds. Experts recommend social distancing, which means keeping at least three feet of distance between you and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching ‘high-touch’ surfaces in public places like door handles, handrails, elevator buttons. If you can’t avoid touching them, cover your hand or finger with a sleeve or tissue.
How to protect your baby from coronavirus
By protecting yourself from coronavirus, you’re significantly reducing the chance you’ll pass COVID-19 onto your baby. But you can also take extra precautions to protect your baby:
- Sneeze and cough into a tissue or your elbow so you’re less likely to pass any germs onto your baby or other family members.
- Wash your baby's hands and face after they’ve been in public.
- Keep your baby away from people who are sick.
- Wash your hands before touching your baby, and especially before feeding your baby. If you’re expressing breastmilk, wash your hands before pumping.
- If you’re breastfeeding and you’re showing symptoms of the new coronavirus, wear a face mask during each feed if you can get access to one.
- Clean and sterilise your baby’s toys and feeding supplies regularly.
Baby immune systems are under-developed. For instance, by 12 months of age, babies have only developed 15-17% of an adult level of one type of immune cell. Plus milk is an ideal place for many germs to grow and, according to Michael Schmidt, PhD, “the only thing that microbes like better than human skin is plastic and glass”. When you take all these things into consideration, it’s not hard to see why, even under normal circumstance, it’s important to sterilise your baby’s bottle (if they’re being bottle fed), the parts of your breast pump and accessories that come into contact with milk (if you’re expressing) and your child’s bowls, cutlery and cups (if they’re a little older and have started solids). For babies that are putting toys and other things in their mouths, it's important to sterilise those as well if possible.
With the current coronavirus pandemic, sterilisation is even more vital.
Briefly, the process for sterilising any object involves:
- Thoroughly washing the item to remove as much dirt and as many germs as possible
- Using a physical or chemical process to kill any remaining germs
You can sterilise by boiling, which is cheap but more dangerous (there’s a risk of burns), and it degrades bottle teats more quickly. There’s the option of using cold-sterilisation chemicals, but some baby bottles aren’t suitable for this process, your baby could be sensitive to the chemicals and it can be more difficult to achieve complete sterilisation with that method.
You can quickly sterilise many baby items in the microwave, but not if there are any metal parts and there is also a risk of burns with this option just as there is with the boiling method. Or perhaps the most convenient, safest and most foolproof sterilisation method is to use an electronic steriliser. There’s much less room for human error as everything is automatic. Electronic sterilisers kill almost every germ in a way that’s safe for you and Bub. And better yet, these sterilisers don’t shorten the life of baby bottles and teats like some of the other methods do. Electronic sterilisers can be more expensive, but when you’re trying to protect your baby from something like the new coronavirus, the added cost is definitely worth it.
For more detailed information on the four ways to steriliser your baby items https://minbie.com.au/blogs/news/4-top-ways-to-sterilise-baby-bottles
Safely prepare formula
If you feed your baby formula, it’s always important to prepare it safely, yet more than half of parents don’t. But now, more than ever, it is even more important to ensure you’re not increasing your baby’s risk of catching the new coronavirus by not preparing their formula safely. Here’s our detailed guide to safely preparing baby formula.
Other things you can do to protect you and your family from coronavirus
Should we wear face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus?
The official WHO guidance says:
- If you are healthy, you only need to wear a face mask if you are caring for someone who has or is suspected to have the new coronavirus.
- If you are coughing or sneezing, wear a mask.
If you have the new coronavirus disease and you’re breastfeeding, wearing a face mask can help you protect your baby from the virus during feeds.
It’s important to know that masks only work if you’re also washing your hands regularly and you use the mask properly. This video shows how to use a face mask.
Can our pets pass on coronavirus?
In early March, a dog in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, though it hasn’t shown any symptoms of the new coronavirus disease. The dog’s owner was sick with COVID-19 and likely passed the virus to the dog. There is no evidence to suggest that dogs, cats or other pets can transmit the virus to people. If your household has a pet, you and your family should practice normal pet-related hygiene (e.g. wash your hands before and after touching your pet) to protect them from coronavirus and to protect you and your family from other germs they may be carrying. If you’re sick with COVID-19, have someone else care for your pet if possible.
The role of vaccination in protecting babies from coronavirus
There is no vaccine for the new coronavirus. But other vaccinations are important during this outbreak. For instance, if you and your family have a flu shot at the right time, that means there’s more medical care available for people suffering from the new coronavirus (because not as many people will need care for the flu). It also becomes easier to figure out who has COVID-19 if fewer people are getting the flu.
Ensuring your baby and any older children get all their other routine childhood immunisations will also reduce the risk that your children will need medical care during the coronavirus outbreak. There are multiple reasons why this is important:
- Fewer children getting sick reduces the burden on the healthcare system so there are more resources for those with COVID-19
- If your baby is less likely to need medical care, they’re less likely to have to be exposed to other sick people in hospital and GP waiting rooms
- Immune systems that are already battling one illness are going to struggle to fight off additional illnesses so protecting your baby from preventable diseases through vaccination means frees up their immune system to fight the new coronavirus
Should children still attend daycare?
Babies and children in daycare are sick more often because there are more opportunities to share germs, especially when children are at the age where they share saliva (think teething babies). Therefore you may choose to keep your child home from daycare to reduce their chances of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.
If your child is still going to attend daycare, change their clothes, wash their hands and face and then wash your hands before cuddling them and taking them home to reduce the spread of germs.
Keeping grandparents safe from coronavirus
Older people are more at risk of contracting the new coronavirus and they’re more likely to experience severe effects from COVID-19, so if you normally rely on one or more grandparents to care for your baby or young children, you might want to look for alternatives until the crisis has passed. If that’s not possible, give them a face mask to wear when caring for your children and make sure they know how to use it properly.
Talking to older kids about coronavirus
It’s important that children follow good hygiene practices, so be sure your older children know what they need to do to protect themselves from the new coronavirus. It’s also a good idea to find out what they know about the disease and whether they’re worried about it.
If your children are anxious, speak calmly and reassuringly and help them feel in control by giving them specific strategies they can use to protect themselves. Talk to them about getting lots of sleeping, eating healthy foods and washing their hands.
You can also help by talking to them about how others are working to protect us all. Tell them that doctors and hospitals are prepared to look after people who get the illness. For kids who are old enough to understand, you can also tell them that scientists are researching treatments and working on a vaccine for the new coronavirus.
If your children are worried about older relatives, let them talk to those relatives on the phone. And make sure they know it’s ok to be anxious and that this stressful time will pass. This will help them become more resilient.
How to prepare for coronavirus escalation
Most of our communities will probably be hit by the new coronavirus, if they haven’t already been hit. So it makes sense to start preparing now. And there are three parts to this preparation:
- Be prepared in case of supply interruptions.
- Be prepared in case you or someone in your household gets sick and you need to self-isolate.
- Be prepared in case you need to restrict your movements.
Here are some things to bear in mind.
Stock up on supplies gradually
One way to prepare for coronavirus coming to your community is to gradually stock up on supplies each time you shop. For example, if you use disposable nappies, when you buy your next lot of nappies, buy an extra pack until you’ve got a few week’s worth. You might also want to buy some reusable nappies in case you find yourself unable to buy disposables.
It’s also worth gradually stocking up on long-life staple foods and other staple supplies like toilet paper, tissues, disinfectant and soap. If you take any prescription medications, you might also like to buy an extra pack, if possible, in case you’re not able to get to a pharmacy.
It’s important that we don’t go crazy though and start panic buying these things as that just leads to chaos and shortages that disproportionately disadvantage underprivileged people in our communities. If we’re all sensible when shopping, there should be plenty of supplies to go around.
Prepare for school or childcare closures
If you have a child in school or childcare, it’s also sensible to be prepared in case these services are temporarily closed. Depending on your household situation, that might involve:
- Stocking up on craft and learning supplies (e.g. books) so you can keep your child entertained and educated at home
- Talking to your employer about their work-from-home policies and arrangements or the possibility of bringing your child to work with you if needed
- Investigating extra care arrangements
How is coronavirus treated?
- Fluids to combat dehydration
- Paracetamol or other medication to lower a fever
- Oxygen and/or a respirator for those with breathing difficulties
Researchers are investigating several drugs that may help treat coronavirus.
What you should do if you or your baby experience coronavirus symptoms
If you think you may have coronavirus, the first step is to call your doctor for medical advice. Do not report to a medical Center unless your doctor tells you to, otherwise you may spread the illness to others there. For the same reason, do not report to a hospital emergency department unless you have life-threatening symptoms (such as difficulty breathing) — in that case, call ahead so hospital staff can prepare for your arrival. You’ll be pleased to know that most people don’t need to go to hospital as about 80% of people infected with the new coronavirus recover without hospital treatment.
If you have a mild COVID-19 infection and a medical professional tells you to self-isolate, you can stay home and follow the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) COVID-19 guidelines until you’re told that you can leave home. These guidelines state that you shouldn’t go to work, school or public places. Don’t use public transport. Don’t leave your home except to get medical care and call ahead before you visit your medical provider.
You should also try to keep away from other people and pets in your home and keep to a single room if possible. Use a separate bathroom if possible.
If you have to be around other people, use a face mask. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues into a lined trash can. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after touching your face, blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing.
Don’t share personal household items like plates, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding or toothpaste. Wash these things thoroughly after use.
Clean and disinfect ‘high-touch’ surfaces daily. This includes counters, tabletops, door handles, toilets, phones, keyboards and faucets. You should also clean and disinfect anything that has bodily fluids on it. The CDC has produced guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting household surfaces.
Can you keep breastfeeding if you have the new coronavirus?
Initial studies on women with COVID-19 and SARS indicate that the new coronavirus probably isn’t transmitted to babies via breastmilk. However, experts don’t know for sure that babies can’t catch coronavirus from breastmilk. The CDC hasn’t published official guidance as to whether women should keep breastfeeding if they contract COVID-19, however, if you’re currently breastfeeding, UNICEF recommends you continue to breastfeed your baby so they continue to receive the many benefits of breastfeeding. If you choose to continue to breastfeed your baby, you should follow all the best practice hygiene advice and wear a face mask while direct-latch breastfeeding or feeding your baby expressed breastmilk if possible.
What to do if you’re too sick to breastfeed
If you’re too sick to breastfeed your baby, you may be able to express breastmilk and have someone else feed it to your baby. If you choose to do this, be sure to follow all official hygiene advice.
Does COVID-19 affect milk supply?
Some mothers find their milk supply reduces when they are sick with any illness. If you get coronavirus and find being sick affects your milk supply, when you are feeling up to it, you can take steps to increase your milk supply, or you might find talking to a lactation consultant helpful.
Where to learn more about coronavirus
Here’s where you can learn more about the new coronavirus:
- The number of US COVID-19 cases and deaths
- A map of the number of cases by state
- WHO coronavirus advisory information
Look for government updates, including travel advisories and other government initiative