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BREASTFEEDING WHILE SICK
There is a popular saying that moms don’t get sick days. This is especially true for breastfeeding moms. But moms do get sick. When they do, they want relief. Breastfeeding moms also want to keep their baby healthy and safe.
When you are feeling miserable you want to know what will make you feel better. You also need fact-based information about breastfeeding while sick.
Inquiring moms want to know –
- Can I keep breastfeeding while sick?
- Can you get your baby sick while breastfeeding?
- What medications can I take while breastfeeding?
- Is it safer to pump and bottle-feed?
- If I pump milk when I am sick can I feed it later?
NURSING WHEN SICK
Whether you can safely breastfeed while sick depends on what illness you have.
There are very few illnesses in which breastfeeding is contraindicated. Most of them are rare.
There are a few conditions where it is safer to pump and bottle-feed.
I list specific conditions where breastfeeding or breast milk feeding is not advised towards the end of this article.
Let’s first talk about the common illnesses where a mom might wonder if she can continue nursing when sick.
BREASTFEEDING WHEN YOU HAVE A COLD
It is not only safe to breastfeed if you have a cold, it is actually a good idea to keep breastfeeding when you have a cold.
There is communication on a cellular level between your baby and your breasts. When your baby gets sick or has been exposed to someone who is ill your breast milk will actually change to keep your baby healthy.
I’m going to get technical with you for a minute. If this isn’t your jam, bear with me. It’s really pretty fascinating stuff.
Our white blood cells are called leukocytes. Leukocytes help our bodies fight infection. There are leukocytes in breast milk. Studies have shown that when a mom or her baby are sick the number of infection-fighting leukocytes increases in her breast milk (Source). How cool is that?
This doesn’t mean a breastfed baby will never get sick. But it’s well documented that they get sick less often than baby’s who are formula fed or mixed fed. And the longer they are breastfed the more protection they get (Source).
Moms have shown pictures of how their milk has a deeper yellow color when their baby is sick.
COLD MEDICINE WHILE NURSING
A common question I get from breastfeeding moms during cold and flu season is, “What kind of cold medicine can I take while breastfeeding?” Moms are always concerned about the safety of taking medications when they are breastfeeding.
The good news is that there are medications that are safe to take, whether you have the sniffles, a sore throat or a cough, or all three.
There are also effective natural remedies for symptoms of colds and flu.
If something is safe for your baby to take then it is usually safe for you to take when you are breastfeeding.
For up to date information on the safety of specific medications I get my information from the MommyMeds app. It is produced by Thomas W. Hale, RPh, PhD. Drugs are assigned a rating as to whether their use is compatible with breastfeeding.
Medications in MommyMeds are classified as:
- L1 – Compatible
- L2 – Probably Compatible to Compatible
- L3 – Probably Compatible
- L4 – Possible Hazardous
- L5 – Hazardous
- Unknown – there is no data or information available
Over the Counter Drugs For Aches and Pains
Acetaminophen – L1
Ibuprofen – L1
Aleve – L3
Drugs for Cough
Guaifenesin – L3
Dextromethorphan – L3
Codeine – L4
Doxylamine – L3
Diphenhydramine – L2
Pseudoephedrine – L4 (This medication can significantly decrease milk supply)
Nasal Decongestant Sprays
Oxymetazoline – L3
Many cold medications have a combination of drugs in them so be sure to check the label so you can research all the drugs.
BEST NATURAL REMEDIES FOR COLD AND FLU
Natural Remedies for Congestions
Humidifier- Make sure you clean humidifiers regularly.
I will admit the first time I heard about nasal irrigation with a NetiPot I didn’t think I could do it. It actually is not bad doing it and it can provide so much relief.
A NetiPot is a great natural remedy for nasal and sinus congestion.
Use distilled water or water that has been boiled and cooled. Use saline packets intended for nasal irrigation.
Sleep with your head elevated
Natural Sore Throat Relief
Gargle with salt water
Hot tea with honey – this is also a good natural remedy for congestion.
I always have a box of Oscillococcinum in my medicine cabinet. I take it at the slightest feeling that I am getting sick and I rarely get a full blown cold or flu.
BREASTFEEDING WITH THE FLU
The flu is a brutal seasonal illness that can send you to your bed for days.
If you get the flu get lots of rest, fluids and treat your symptoms.
It is safe to continue breastfeeding when mom has influenza?
Yes, it is safe to breastfeed when you have the flu. It is critical to wash your hands before handling your baby. If you are sneezing a lot you should consider wearing a mask.
FLU VACCINE WHILE BREASTFEEDING
Breastfeeding moms are advised to get vaccinated against the flu. One of the best ways to protect your children is by getting vaccinated.
TAMIFLU WHILE BREASTFEEDING
Tamiflu is and anti-viral prescription medication. It is effective in shortening the duration of the influenza A and B. It is rated as an L-2.
BREASTFEEDING WITH STOMACH FLU
Getting the stomach flu can be brutal. Vomiting and diarrhea can be caused by contaminated food, water, bacteria and viruses, including norovirus. Breastfeeding appears to provide some protection against Norovirus (Source).
Food poisoning is not contagious. If you feel up to breastfeeding, then you can continue to nurse your baby.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) encourages mothers who have “traveler’s diarrhea” to increase breastfeeding frequency in addition to increasing her own intake of fluids.
Adding electrolytes like Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier can help maintain electrolyte balance.
IS IT SAFE TO BREASTFEED WITH A FEVER?
It is safe to breastfeed when mom has a fever as long as she is not sick with something that is contraindicated with breastfeeding.
WHEN IS BREASTFEEDING CONTRAINDICATED?
There are very few maternal illnesses and diseases when a mother is told not to breastfeed at all.
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II (HTLV-1/2)
There are a few illnesses when a mom should temporarily stop breastfeeding. With these diseases she should not feed milk pumped while she is contagious.
She can resume breastfeeding once she is given the all-clear from her healthcare provider.
Mothers with the following conditions are advised to not breastfeed directly. The CDC does say their baby can be fed their expressed milk.
- Chicken pox (varicella)
CAN I BREASTFEED IF I HAVE HERPES?
Herpes is very contagious. The CDC advises mothers with an active Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) infections with lesions on the breast to not feed from the affected breast nor feed their baby any milk pumped from that breast. The CDC goes on to say that if the lesions are covered a mother can feed from the unaffected breast.
FEEDING BREAST MILK EXPRESSED WHEN MOM WAS SICK
If you pumped milk when you were sick with a cold or flu you can feed that milk later on.
There are certain illnesses where it is not recommended to breastfeed directly but you can feed pumped milk. Check out the When Is Breastfeeding Contraindicated section above.
GENERAL PRECAUTIONS TO STAY HEALTHY WHEN PEOPLE AROUND YOU ARE SICK
Wash your hands with hot water and soap. Spend 20 seconds lathering up.
All that hand washing will dry out your skin. Use hand lotion to keep your skin moisturized.
I am a huge fan of EOS Shea Better Hand Cream. It is at such an affordable price point that I keep a tube in several places in my house. It’s perfect for your breastfeeding basket and diaper bag.
Avoid touching your face.
Avoid hugs and handshakes when there is a lot of illness going around.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON BREASTFEEDING WHILE SICK
Whether it is a common cold or flu season or a global pandemic, there is a lot of reassuring evidence about the safety of breastfeeding while sick.
Stay healthy mamas!
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.