Breastfeeding and Zika – Wait what?
This topic hits a scare spot for me since I was actually pregnant while traveling to countries that were on the radar for the spread of the Zika virus.
I had no clue what it was, as did most of the American population since it was relatively new coverage in the medical world. Fortunately, my baby and I walked away from our travels Zika-free.
Let’s discuss Zika as it specifically affects breastfeeding as well as methods to keep you feeding mothers and babies safe from its spread.
What is the Zika virus?
Zika was first identified in Uganda as a mosquito-borne flavivirus in 1947, flavivirus referring to a membership in a family of viruses that are associated with encephalopathy, hemorrhagic fevers, and high mortality rates across the world.
Zika was recently associated with Guillian-Barre Syndrome in Brazil in 2015, a disorder in which the immune system attacks a wide range of nerves in the body causing acute and chronic neuropathic and musculoskeletal damage.
How does the virus spread?
As stated previously, Zika virus is transmitted through mosquito's or more specifically mosquito's belonging to the Aedes species which are known for biting during the day time and night time.
The virus is also known to spread from infected, expecting mothers to their unborn fetuses. The least understood aspect about transmitting the virus to the fetus is that it can occur through sexual intercourse.
What are the symptoms and side effects?
Symptoms that an infected adult may exhibit are typical of any fever-related disease including joint pain, muscle pain, unexplained rashes, and conjunctivitis.
In some instances, people won’t display any symptoms and can only confirm infection through a blood or urine sample. Side effects for babies appear to be the most devastating, often resulting in microcephaly (i.e. shrunken head) and permanent brain damage.
Are there any cures?
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there are currently no vaccines or medicines available to cure Zika.
What effect does Zika have on breastfeeding mothers and the milk?
Although researchers have recently identified Zika virus in breast milk, there is no current evidence that Zika can be transmitted to an infant via breastfeeding.
In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued breastfeeding guidelines that are not so unique as compared to typical infant feeding for mothers who are not infected with Zika virus.
Due to the lack of evidence of breast-milk transmission, both the CDC and WHO state that infected mothers should continue normal breast-feeding with their newborns since the health benefits currently outweigh any health risks.
How can you protect yourself from the Zika virus?
What it really boils down to regarding Zika transmission is preventing the spread prenatally:
If you are pregnant during the spring and summer-time or plan on traveling to areas with active mosquitoes, start by researching repellents that are safe for you and your unborn child. Check out my post, “Top 5 Baby-friendly Mosquito Repellents” for some basic products.
2. Clothing protection:
For those who live in typical mosquito climates, this tip may just be common sense. Wear clothing that will protect large portions of your skin, especially at night when you can’t visibly catch mosquitoes before they attack.
Clothing includes long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and long socks. Avoid wearing open-toed shoes or sandals at night. Keep your hands and neck protected with pregnancy-safe repellent in hotter temperatures.
Zika virus has been known to transmit through oral and vaginal intercourse. The CDC has issued recommendations for partners who have recently traveled in areas where Zika has been identified.
Such recommendations include either wearing condoms during intercourse or abstaining from sex completely for the duration of the pregnancy.
4. Travel precautions:
If a pregnant woman or their partner is obligated to travel, check out sites that will offer updated information about Zika-infected areas throughout the world.
Zika has already been identified in infected populations throughout the U.S. (particularly the south), Asia, Europe, and Africa. The CDC offers a world map that indicates where Zika is currently active.