Breastfeeding: While Sick

Even though it can be tiring, breastfeeding while sick is completely safe for both the mother and the baby. 

As nursing mothers, we should always ensure that our little bundle of joy gets all the nourishment and care required to grow up healthy and strong. While highly rewarding, being a mother isn’t easy and most of us are bound to have bad days once in a while. Coming down with the flu or a cold can be very daunting for a nursing mother and it is not uncommon to wonder if breastfeeding while sick is safe for the mother and the baby.

Mother is holding her baby

Even though breastfeeding while sick is completely safe for the mother and the baby, there are some rare and serious illnesses that can make breastfeeding unsafe.

In this blog, we’re going to go over how to breastfeed while you’re sick, the effect of the common cold on breast milk supply, what medications while breastfeeding work the best for nursing mothers and lastly, how to take care of yourself too when you’re sick.

Is breastfeeding safe when I’m sick?

One of the first things we have to understand on the journey of our motherhood is knowing how to breastfeed our little one in the right manner. Understanding your newborn’s development is crucial and helps in avoiding common breastfeeding mistakes.

Happy sick mother is breastfeeding her baby

As mentioned before, breastfeeding while sick is completely safe for the mother and the baby and while it can be tiring for the mother, it is best to continue breastfeeding through almost any common illness. When the mother has a contagious illness like a cold or flu, the disease cannot be transmitted through breastmilk. On the contrary, your breastmilk will contain antibodies that are specific to the illness you’re facing and these antibodies actually help in preventing your baby from getting sick and also helps the baby in fighting diseases and illnesses.

The antibodies to any illness are usually formed within four to five days in the mother, which are transmitted to the baby through breastmilk. Most viruses have an incubation period of four to five days so the babies already have antibody protection before the sickness can get to them.

Even though breastfeeding while sick is safe, it can be a tiring process and mothers should keep some precautions in mind which help make the process a bit easier. Here are some pointers to keep in mind:

  • Just because you’re breastfeeding your baby while sick doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help in other aspects of motherhood. It is a good idea to allow a caregiver to help you with your baby when it comes to diapering, playtime, bathtime, and bedtime!
  • Another precaution to take when you’re breastfeeding while suffering from a cold or flu is to ensure you cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • If you’re handling a breast pump, you should make it a point to wash your hands with warm soap and water after you cough or sneeze during the process.
  • To further avoid the spread of disease, use a disinfectant on surfaces. 

Lastly, always be observant when you’re dealing with your baby. If you notice anything wrong such as slow or shallow breathing, consult your doctor immediately to prevent any complications in your child’s health.

Medications and breastfeeding when you’re sick?

Medications and the mother

Even though it is safe to breastfeed when you’re sick, some medications can complicate the process of breastfeeding like increasing your lactation period while you’re sick so it is best to consult your doctor before taking any medication.

A common list of safe-to-take medications while breastfeeding includes the following:

  • Ibuprofen.
  • Decongestants like Afrin, Allegra. It is best to avoid decongestants which contain pseudoephedrine though, which can lead to a decrease in your breast milk supply.
  • Most antibiotics. However, it is best to consult with your doctor to ensure the antibiotic you’re taking is safe for breastfeeding and wouldn’t have adverse effects like affecting your lactation period adversely.

Some medications while breastfeeding are not safe such as:

  • High-dose vitamins and supplements.
  • Pseudoephedrine, as mentioned previously, which can lead to a decrease in breast milk supply

In case you absolutely have to go on medications while breastfeeding that are not safe for the child, it can be a good idea to still pump your breastmilk in order to ensure there’s no decrease in your breast milk supply. During this time, you can offer your baby stored breast milk or milk formula. 

How to deal with being sick as a nursing mother?

Nursing mother getting help by her husband

Now that we’ve covered the baby, let’s focus on you. As a nursing mother, falling sick can be tiring and stressful. It is crucial that you do not neglect your own health while taking care of the little one. To recover from your cold or flu, the most important thing is to ensure you get enough rest. Other than that, here are some tips to take care of your health as a nursing mother:

  • Use safe medications.
    As we mentioned previously in this article, there are some medications which are not safe for breastfeeding. Some of them can affect your lactation period. In case you have to take those medications, you should make an effort to increase your breast milk supply after you recover.
  • Pay attention to your diet.
    Ensure you’re getting enough supplements like zinc and vitamin C. Fruits such as mango, melons, and papaya are rich in vitamin C while foods such as eggs and yoghurts have zinc in abundance.
  • Drink enough water.
    Stay hydrated by drinking enough water or soothing warm beverages like tea. Being hydrated also helps in maintaining your breast milk supply.
  • Use a humidifier.
    Use a cool-mist humidifier to keep the air around you moist as dry air can often make your cough worse.

When should I not breastfeed?

While breastfeeding through a common illness like a cold or the flu, there are some diseases that can make breastfeeding dangerous. For example, infections like measles, tuberculosis, and septicaemia can be transmitted through breastmilk. Mothers undergoing chemotherapy for cancer shouldn’t breastfeed too as it is not safe for the baby.

Consult your doctor for more specific information

While the information provided in this blog is meant for a general audience, every mother is different. In case you have more questions, you should consult with your doctor to ensure the best health for you and your little one. It is better to know facts rather than falling prey to popular breastfeeding myths.

Summary

Breastfeeding when you’re sick is completely safe as diseases cannot be transmitted to your baby through the breastmilk. In contrast to that, your breastmilk actually makes your baby stronger and more immune to diseases as your breastmilk carries antibodies of the diseases which then are naturally transmitted to your baby. Of course, there are some diseases that can make breastfeeding dangerous like tuberculosis, septicemia, and measles. As an additional measure, you should ensure that any medication you take for your illness doesn’t interfere with your ability to breastfeed. While it is a good idea to breastfeed when you’re sick, you should definitely also take care of yourself and get as much rest as possible; asking a caregiver to assist you during this period can be massively helpful.

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