Breastfeeding When Sick: Is It Okay?

breastfeeding when sick feature

Being sick when you’re a mom with a baby to take care can be difficult. There are no sick days for moms and you’re constantly worried your little one is going to get sick too.  If you’re breastfeeding, you might be concerned about passing on your bug to your child.

Is It Okay To Breastfeed While I’m Sick?

It’s not just okay, it’s the best thing you can do for your baby.

According to health experts viruses like the common cold don’t pass into your breast milk. It’s not only safe, but it’s also beneficial to keep them breastfeeding when you have a cold or flu. Breast milk is the healthiest nourishment your baby can get and you’re giving them an extra boost of antibodies that help protect them from getting sick. If your baby does get sick, breastfeeding will help them recover faster as well.

It’s not just bacterial infections and viruses. The organisms that cause food poisoning don’t pass through breastmilk either. Even nasty bugs like West Nile virus, Zika, and Lyme disease can’t make your baby sick through your milk or don’t pass into it at all. Breastmilk is pretty amazing stuff.

The Few Exceptions

Some of the more serious diseases like HTLV-1, brucellosis (a rare bacterial infection) can pass through breast milk. Moms should not breastfeed if they have HIV, tuberculosis, or the human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or II; are on chemotherapy, or are undergoing radiation treatment for cancer.

Talk to your doctor if you have Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Hepatitis C, Lupus, sickle cell disease, syphilis, thrush, toxoplasmosis, or active tuberculosis. It’s generally safe to breastfeed but there are some caveats and exceptions with those.

If you have chickenpox or herpes simplex lesions on your breast there are extra precautions that need to be taken. These diseases can’t pass into your milk, but they can still spread through direct contact.

As with most things baby-related, call your doctor if you’re concerned.

Take Care Of Yourself

Breastfeeding uses your body’s resources. When you’re sick, there are less of those resources to go around and as any mom who’s been sick while pregnant knows, your body will prioritize baby over you. Make sure you stay hydrated. Seriously. Drink ALL the water. It will help you recover faster and keep your milk supply up.

You can also switch to laying on your side and breastfeeding your baby while lying down so you get some rest. Ideally, your partner will bring your baby to you to eat and then whisk them away so you don’t even have to get up. *hint hint, partners*

Medication and Your Milk

As with pregnancy, some medications are perfectly safe while breastfeeding, some are questionable, and some are a hard “Nope.” Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are both safe but some cough and cold medicines may not be. Pseudoephedrine, for example, can decrease your milk supply.

There are several extensive lists available on the great wide web that layout which meds are safe while breastfeeding and which ones aren’t. The National Institutes of Health maintains this database on specific drugs.

All that being said, it’s always best to check with a health professional before taking ANY medication (even over the counter meds) when you’re breastfeeding.

It’s a good idea to load up on vitamin C and zinc to help your body fight off whatever ails you. A humidifier and nasal saline solutions are also great (and perfectly safe) ways to ease cold symptoms. If you’re dealing with nausea, peppermint anything can help ease symptoms.

Take Precautions

Breastfeeding will help your baby fight off infection but it’s not a magic wand. Your illness may not pass through your breastmilk, but it can still transfer to your baby in all the normal ways.

Take standard precautions like extra handwashing and covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. A mask might even be called for when you’re in extra close proximity with your wee one. Disinfect any surfaces frequently (another thing your partner can do) and avoid touching your baby’s eyes, nose, and mouth.

If your baby is at least six months old, you should also make sure they’ve had their flu shot.

If Baby Gets Sick

Despite our best efforts, our kiddos will all get sick at some point. The best thing you can do for your baby, in this case, is, you guessed it, keep breastfeeding with a few minor alterations.

Breastfeed on demand rather than on a schedule. Just like you, illness can dehydrate your baby. Breastfeeding as often as they’d like will give them all those extra antibodies and keep them hydrated.

If your baby has a cold, you’ll want to nurse them in as upright position as possible. A bulb syringe or snot sucker combined with saline solution can help clear up any congestion.

It Takes A Village

Task your partner with taking on extra jobs so you can rest. Reach out to friends and family. Plenty of people will jump at the opportunity to snuggle with your precious little one while you take a long hot bath or make a date with your bed for a much-needed nap. Breastfeeding your baby while sick is great for baby but try not to take on too much. It’s easy to push yourself too hard when you’re sick because so much has to get done, but remember, the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is Get Well Soon!

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