What Happens When I’m Sick and Breastfeeding?
As a mom, being exhausted is a pretty normal part of having a new baby. With lack of sleep and an intense focus on your little one’s needs over your own, there is a pretty good chance that your immune system will get run down at some point. So what happens when you come down with the flu, cold, stomach bug or even food poisoning? If you are breastfeeding, it’s only natural to be worried about what you may be passing onto your baby and will most likely provoke the following questions:
Is it safe to breastfeed when I’m sick?
The short answer is YES. For a run-of-the-mill illness, the benefits of continued breastfeeding far outweigh any negative ones. The only two illnesses where breastfeeding is not recommended are HIV and lymphoma (HTLV-1), both very rare and unlikely to be an issue. If your doctor plans to manage your sickness with medications, just make sure they know you are breastfeeding so that what you’re being prescribed is safe for baby and won’t decrease your milk supply. You can consult the Infant Risk Center for specific medication guidance.
But won’t my baby get sick from me?
With any bug a mommy might catch, she is most contagious before symptoms appear and the body launches a full immune response. Thus, chances are high your baby was already exposed to your germs before you started feeling sick at all. With your body now building up its own antibodies to fight the bug, these will naturally carry over into your breast milk to provide your baby the best immune protection possible. Through breastfeeding, if baby gets sick they will recover quicker from the provided antibodies, nutrition, hydration, and comfort. While either of you is sick, don’t forget to follow standard illness prevention like washing hands, avoiding face contact and coughing away from your baby.
What about mastitis?
Mastitis is an infection of the breast that can lead to pain, swelling, and heat in addition to flu-like symptoms of fever and chills. Although you may not be feeling well enough to breastfeed, it is actually the most beneficial thing you can do to fight the infection. Without regular milk expression, there is the risk of complications such as an abscess which can lead to further pain and being forced to discontinue breastfeeding earlier than planned. Heat, massage, rest, adequate nutrition and fluids and continued emptying of the breast thoroughly (either via baby or a breast pump) is key for recovery.
What you should do to recover.
Being sick while taking care of your baby is hard enough without having to add anxiety over the loss of milk supply! So keep breastfeeding, eat healthy, and get enough sleep and fluids no matter what illness you’re battling. If baby is refusing to feed due to a change in milk flavor or consistency, use a pump maintain milk supply and promote optimal recovery. Stay positive and know that you will get through this bump in the road with a little self-love while still being able to care for baby. A little extra snuggle time while feeding is just what the doctor ordered!
Have further questions? Contact a lactation specialist today here.
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