COVID-19: How a baby born to coronavirus-infected mother breastfed without catching the disease

A baby born to an Australian woman infected with COVID-19 didn't contract the disease, even though the newborn stayed with the mother after being born, just like any other baby would.

The secret was simple - washing hands and wearing masks. 

The Queensland mother was a couple of days overdue when she started feeling sick, and testing at Gold Coast University Hospital showed she was infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. 

The next day she spontaneously went into labour and gave birth normally. She wore a surgical mask throughout, while the hospital staff were in full personal protective equipment (PPE), including N-95 masks. 

But rather than isolate the baby to protect it from her mother, they were transferred to an isolation room together.

"The patient expressed a desire to attempt a vaginal delivery and not be separated from her infant even if a COVID-19 infection eventuated," doctors wrote in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

They stayed in there for four days, during which time the father also tested positive for COVID-19. They "observed strict viral precautions of handwashing and use of surgical masks around their baby", who was regularly breastfed but never contracted the disease.

They went home after four days, and spent the next 10 in self-isolation. The baby never showed any signs of getting sick.

"To our knowledge this is also the first case described of parents with COVID-19 not separated from their infant...  It is possible to consider rooming in post-delivery for COVID-19 positive parents. Encouragement of breastfeeding appears possible and safe when viral precautions are observed."

There haven't been any recorded cases of mothers passing the virus onto their infants during pregnancy, despite a case in Switzerland where the virus was detected in the placenta following a miscarriage, believed to have been triggered by the disease. Few viruses are known to be capable of crossing the placental barrier. 

While children typically have milder symptoms than adults when they contract COVID-19, there is growing evidence they're particularly at risk of a potentially fatal inflammation syndrome believed to be caused by the same virus.