More women opting to breastfeed to protect babies against coronavirus

Rotunda Hospital has ‘drive-through service’ to test patients for virus prior to admission

More women are choosing to breastfeed their babies and are breastfeeding for longer to help protect against Covid-19, it has emerged.

Prof Fergal Malone, master of the Rotunda Hospital, said mothers had become more aware of the immune benefits of breastfeeding and warding off infection because of the global pandemic.

He said fewer than 50 patients at the Rotunda had tested positive for Covid-19 and there had been “no Covid babies” to date.

All patients scheduled to undergo elective procedures are tested for coronavirus 24-48 hours prior to admission, including those coming for planned inductions and Caesarean sections.


“Out of 9,000 inpatients and outpatients ongoing here at any one time, that is actually a very small proportion,” Prof Malone said. “The vast majority of women with confirmed Covid infection have already delivered and all those who have delivered, they and their babies have done very well.”

He said the Rotunda has a “drive-through service” where patients drive up to the gate of the hospital, roll down the window and are swabbed before driving away. The results are available within hours.

Prof Malone said all women at the hospital, including those with Covid-19, were encouraged to breastfeed.

“We do see more positivity towards breastfeeding now. Patients who might have been nervous about breastfeeding and who felt they wouldn’t be able to are realising that the immune benefits of breastfeeding are significant.

Antibodies transfer

Breastmilk is effective against infectious diseases as it strengthens the immune system by transferring antibodies from mother to baby, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Lactation consultant and general practice nurse Orla Dorgan, who is based at the Cork Medical Centre GP practice, has also noticed an increase in the number of mothers choosing to breastfeed.

“They know it will give baby more protection if somebody close to them was to get [Covid-19],” she said.

“But more so, women are breastfeeding for longer now. I have had a good few messages from women where they want to breastfeed for a longer duration. Instead of weaning from breastfeeding during this crisis, they are waiting until the Covid-19 crisis is over.

“Also, I have mums who are expecting their second and third babies who never breastfed their first babies and due to everything going on want to breastfeed.”

The Rotunda has carried out more than 2,000 Covid-19 tests in the past 10 weeks on patients, hospital staff, nursing home residents, GPs, paramedics, and Dublin Fire Brigade and Dublin Port Authority staff.

A sophisticated genetic analyser machine, purchased by the hospital more than a year ago, has enabled it to turn around Covid-19 tests results within two to three hours.

The swift service has made a huge difference to the hospital’s ability to “normalise” the birthing process for women as much as possible, as patients are categorised as positive or negative within a short period, according to Prof Malone.

Partners cannot accompany patients on outpatient visits due to concerns about social distancing, which has been “disappointing for families”, he says.

To make up for this, patients are allowed to FaceTime and/or take videos of scans. Partners are being facilitated to attend births.


Just as society was changing dramatically, so too was the world of Helen O’Donnell.

The healthcare worker gave birth to her first baby, John, on March 13th, two weeks before the lockdown was introduced.

Ms O’Donnell, who is from Blarney, Co Cork, had always planned to breastfeed, but the global public health crisis motivated her to continue feeding when, at times, she felt like giving up.

An emergency Caesarean section made it “more difficult” to breastfeed in the early days but, with the support of lactation consultants and La Leche League, a voluntary organisation supporting women to breastfeed, two months on she continues to breastfeed.

“I would definitely be more inclined to continue breastfeeding. My plan was to breastfeed until about six or seven months but I may have given up if this virus wasn’t around. It has made me more determined to plough along with it. The closeness that you feel to your baby, too, it really is lovely,” says O’Donnell.

She says she was lucky she gave birth before the lockdown, as this allowed her partner to be at her side for the birth.

She is keen to avoid frequenting busy areas with her newborn, despite the recent easing of restrictions, due to concerns about the virus.

“I am happy enough to stay away. I’ve been to the supermarket twice. My partner has been doing most of the shopping. I wouldn’t bring John] into a supermarket or shop. The only place he’s been is to the post office, and when we were there was nobody there at the time. I would always have a cover over him out walking. I am paranoid,” she says.

Cavan resident Megan Keaney gave birth to her first baby, Eira, earlier this month and continues to breastfeed. She says the virus has made here more intent on breastfeeding.

“I had always planned to breastfeed but the virus makes me more determined to breastfeed. Everything else is out of our control so if I can do anything to help, it’s definitely worth doing.”

She has linked up with two lactation consultants at Cavan General Hospital and says the support she has received around breastfeeding has been amazing.

Despite spending the past month in hospital, Keaney says she is happy to stay at home for now.