Omicron: How to take care of newborns amidst the rise in Covid-19 cases

From breastfeeding to vaccinating newborns, everything you need to know about taking care of babies in the middle of the pandemic

Updated: Jan 17, 2022 06:03:57 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Amidst rising Covid-19 cases, it has become imperative to take special care of newborn babies. Since they may not present with the typical pediatric and adult symptoms of Covid-19, it is always safe to take special precautions to protect newborn babies and be alert in case of abnormal behaviour.

Some common measures to prevent Covid-19 in a newborn are social distancing, frequent hand washing before handling a newborn, receiving both shots or booster doses of the vaccine, wearing a mask, adequate and nutritious food should be consumed by the mother and the newborn to enable adequate breastfeeding.

If you are in isolation because of Covid-19 and living with your newborn:

  • Before you touch the baby, ensure you wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds. Use hand sanitiser with a minimum of 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Wearing a mask is necessary whenever you are within six feet of your baby.
  • Keep your newborn no more than 6 feet away from you as much as possible.
  • When your isolation period is over, you should continue to wash your hands, but you don't need to take other precautions. You will not pass the virus on to your baby or other close contacts after your isolation period is over.

When does the isolation period end? Ten days after symptoms appear, 24 hours without fever or fever-reducing medication, and other symptoms of Covid-19 are improving. If you are asymptomatic, your isolation period will be over after ten days since you tested positive for Covid-19.

When isolating in your home:

  • Stay at home to isolate yourself from others.
  • Stay away from other household members who are not infected, and wear a mask in shared places.
  • People who have come in close contact with Covid-19 infected should test for the infection.

If a newborn has one or more of the following signs or symptoms, they may be early signs of Covid-19 or another disease. In that case, you should contact your healthcare professional.

Keep in mind the below symptoms:

  • Fever (temperature of 100.4 or higher)
  • Lethargy
  • Running nose
  • Cough
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Poor feeding
  • Increased act of breathing or shallow breathing

If you have Covid-19 infection and choose to breastfeed your baby:

  • Wash your hands before breastfeeding.
  • Ensure to wear a mask while breastfeeding your newborn.

If you have Covid-19 and you choose to feed your baby with expressed milk:

  • Use your own breast pump (not shared with anyone else) if possible.
  • Wear a mask while expressing milk.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before touching any pump or bottle part and before milking.
  • Follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use.
  • The pump needs to be cleaned after it comes into contact with milk.
  • Consider having a healthy caregiver to feed the baby expressed milk.

The caregiver must be fully vaccinated (at least two weeks after the second dose of the 2-dose vaccine or two weeks after the 1-dose vaccine schedule) and those who are at risk for serious illness from Covid-19 should not be encouraged to become the caregiver. Any nursing caregiver should wear a mask while caring for the baby for the entire time you are in isolation and throughout your quarantine period after being in complete isolation.

Vaccination in Infants: 
Follow the routine immunisation policy for healthy newborns born to mothers with suspected or confirmed Covid-19, as with other infants.

Newborns with suspected or confirmed infection should have completed vaccination as per existing policy.

Covid-19 vaccines for newborns: 
Recently, vaccines have been introduced for older children of ages 15-18 years. There is still time for vaccines in young children and newborns.

Omicron variant scenario: 
We have preliminary reports suggesting that Omicron is less severe than Delta. But it's too early to say whether Omicron is more or less serious. We still do everything we can to reduce transmission in all populations. The best thing for us to do is to protect ourselves. All those who are eligible should get vaccinated. Make sure to take steps to reduce the risk of this virus.

Follow the basics of physical distancing, wearing a well-fitted mask with clean hands, avoiding crowds, improving ventilation where we live and where we work. The biggest factor right now is making sure we reduce your exposure to the virus, no matter what type it is spreading.

The writer is director of department of pediatrics at Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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