Mothers attempt breastfeeding while sick to ensure their lactating baby stays nourished. Generally, a mother may follow a regular breastfeeding routine if the illnesses do not pass to the baby through breast milk. Hence, mothers can continue breastfeeding their little ones during common illnesses, such as cold, fever, flu, mastitis, and diarrhea.
While focusing on breastfeeding, mothers should also maintain optimum hygiene, hydration, and nourishment to fight illnesses and sustain a proper milk supply. However, if you are undergoing any treatment and using medicines, consult about the changes you may need in feeding schedules. Usually, complete cessation of breastfeeding is worthwhile only when risks outweigh benefits.
Read on to know more about the safety, contraindications, and the right ways to breastfeed during sickness.
Is It Safe To Breastfeed When Sick?
Breastfeeding is safe during common illnesses such as colds or flu. Many babies can benefit from breast milk since they get antibodies against the illness. If you are too tired to breastfeed, you may try expressing and storing the milk since it is the source of nourishment for exclusively breastfed babies (1).
Mothers with active COVID-19 infections are also allowed to express the milk and get help from a caregiver to feed the baby until the infection clears (2). The evidence suggests that breast milk is the safest feed for babies, and it contains antibodies and other immune factors to fight infections.
Doctors may not recommend breastfeeding in some cases after weighing the benefits and risks. You may talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant to make a suitable decision if you are suffering from chronic conditions.
Do Illnesses Pass Through Breast Milk?
Certain illnesses can pass from the mother to the baby through breast milk (3).
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) may cause AIDS
- HTLV-1and HTLV-2 (human T-lymphotropic virus) may cause myelopathy and cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma
- Brucellosis is a bacterial infection caused by brucella, resulting in Malta fever
- Untreated active tuberculosis
Common infections, such as cold and flu, do not pass through breast milk. Evidence also suggests that the new COVID-19 infection does not pass through breast milk.
Illnesses Or Conditions During Which You Can’t Breastfeed
Women are advised to stop breastfeeding in certain illnesses to prevent spreading it to the baby. Breastfeeding is also contraindicated if the mother has chronic illness requiring long-term prescription of certain medications. The decision to breastfeed or not is often made based on the availability of alternate feeds and the risks and benefits of breastfeeding.
- Active infections where the pathogens can pass through breast milk, such as HIV, active untreated tuberculosis, and HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 infections
- HIV/AIDS treatment with antiretroviral drugs
- Cancer treatment with chemotherapeutic drugs and radiation
- Breastfeeding may be more challenging in chronic conditions, such as diabetes, thyroid issues, bowel disorders, or when the mother is severely underweight. The decision may vary based on individual circumstances
- Breastfeeding may not be possible or challenging in women who underwent certain breast surgeries
- Breastfeeding is not suggested for Infants with galactosemia since this may cause galactose to build up in their body, causing complications
- Certain sleep-aid medications and antipsychotics
Although Zika viruses are detected in breast milk, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends continuing breastfeeding since there are no known cases of Zika virus transmission through breast milk (6).
Does Being Sick Affect The Milk Supply?
Sickness may reduce milk supply if the mother is not pumping or feeding as usual. This is not a permanent drop, and the supply goes back to normal after the illness. Sometimes, medications may interfere with milk production. Certain medications are known to lower milk production.
You may ensure that your baby is adequately fed and hydrated. Exclusively breastfed infants can be affected by a significant drop in milk supply. You must seek medical care to get prescriptions for safe lactation medications and to know the tips to breastfeed while taking medications.
How To Prevent Your Baby From Catching Your Illness?
Viral illnesses are contagious, and often babies can be infected by mothers and caregivers. The following tips may help reduce the risk of spreading illnesses to your baby when breastfeeding.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before touching the baby or before handling any of their belongings. You may also try alcohol-based sanitizer to disinfect the hands.
- Avoid sneezing or coughing near the baby.
- Wear a mask while breastfeeding during respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19. Mothers may also use face shields while breastfeeding. Face shields and masks are not recommended for infants since they may interfere with their breathing.
- If you are infected with highly infectious diseases, such as H1N1 (swine flu) or COVID-19, you may express milk instead of directly breastfeeding.
- Get the annual flu vaccine.
- Practice good hand hygiene and other hygiene measures to avoid contracting infections.
Cessation of breastfeeding is not recommended to prevent the spread of common viral infections to the baby. You may maintain good hygiene and express milk if necessary. Take recommended safety measures to avoid contamination of breast milk and feeding bottles while expressing and storing breast milk.
Is Medication Safe While Breastfeeding?
Most of the medications are safe while nursing. However, the amount of medication that reaches breast milk may depend on the dosage and the mother’s body’s elimination rate. Low doses of short-term medications are usually given to nursing mothers (7).
You may feed the baby or express and store the breast milk before taking the medication. Each medication has its mechanism of clearance. Some medications in lower doses can also accumulate over time and result in toxicity.
Some medications are contraindicated in breastfeeding women due to infant toxicity. Seeking prescriptions is ideal for nursing mothers. You may also know the safety of medications from databases, such as LactMed. Always look for signs of toxicity in babies despite being on a safe prescription.
What Are The Safe Cold Remedies For Nursing Moms?
Cold is a common illness in many nursing mothers. You may not require any specific medications to cure a common cold. The following remedies may help nursing moms to deal with cold.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water may help to soothe the cold symptoms and prevent dehydration. You may also try diluted fruit juices, soups (broth), and tea.
- Use a humidifier: Cool-mist humidifier can moist the air and reduce the dry cough. Dry air often worsens the cough.
- Include vitamin C in diet: Vegetables such as tomato, spinach, and broccoli, and fruits such as oranges, kiwi, mango, strawberries, and lemon are good sources of vitamin C.
- Include zinc in diet: Zinc helps to boost immunity. You may add zinc-rich foods, such as oatmeal, wheat germ, eggs, beef, and turkey, to your diet.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Does your breast milk change when I am sick?
When you are sick, your body produces antigen-specific antibodies to fight the illness. These are also present in your breast milk, changing its composition slightly. These antibodies and substances can pass to the baby through breast milk and strengthen their immunity (8).
2. Does breastfeeding weaken my immune system?
There is no evidence that breastfeeding can weaken a nursing mother’s immune system.
Breastfeeding while you are sick should only be considered when the disease cannot be transmitted to the baby through the breastmilk. Also, you need to maintain proper hygiene and care during the process. If you are on medications or are not regularly feeding or pumping due to the illness, it might temporarily decrease your breastmilk production. However, remember to stay hydrated, have a nourished and well-balanced diet, and include vitamin C in your diet to recover your health at a faster pace.
- The safety of breast milk during an illness depends on the condition.
- While common illnesses may not pass through breastmilk, chronic conditions such as HIV, tuberculosis might.
- Sometimes, an illness or medications may reduce the breast milk quantity.
- Practice good hygiene, wash your hands before feeding and consult your physician regarding nursing if you have an illness.
2. Temitope Awelewa, Breastfeeding During the COVID-19 Pandemic; American Academy of Pediatrics
3. Breast Milk and Infection; U.S. National Library of Medicine
4. Contraindications to Breastfeeding or Feeding Expressed Breast Milk to Infants; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
5. Pregnancy, Childbirth & Breastfeeding and HIV; Avert
6. Zika in Infants & Children; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
7. Drugs In Breastfeeding; U.S. National Library of Medicine
8. Breastfeeding Through Colds and Flu; Breastfeeding USA