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Breastfeeding During Illnesses

It's bound to happen at some point during your breastfeeding journey – you wake up with a stuffy nose or come down with a nasty stomach bug that leaves you feeling downright crummy. As a breastfeeding mother, you can't call in sick or take a day off, and you will probably start wondering about your baby's health and whether you should continue breastfeeding.

Let us reassure you that very few illnesses will require you to stop breastfeeding, and there are so many medications that are safe to take while breastfeeding that can help you recover quickly.

The key is to prioritize rest, drink plenty of fluids, and continue to nurse or pump often to maintain your milk supply so you can get back to your happy, healthy, energized self to continue giving your baby all the care and attention they need.

Suppose you feel yourself coming down with something. In that case, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor, lactation consultant, and paediatrician to ensure you receive the best medical advice to keep you and your baby safe and healthy. In the meantime, here’s a quick guide on how to effectively give your baby the nutrient-dense breast milk they need even when you’re not feeling your best.

A tired mother and her baby
It can happen to be sick while you are breastfeeding

Can I Still Breastfeed If I Am Sick?

Breastfeeding is not only acceptable while you’re sick, but it's also actually ENCOURAGED! When you’re battling an illness, your body produces antibodies that will be passed to your baby through your breastmilk. So, by breastfeeding while you’re sick, you protect your baby from getting sick and give them an extra boost of immunity that they’ll need to fight off any potential illnesses.

Whether you have a common cold or the flu, a stomach virus or an infection, or even food poisoning, it is safe to continue breastfeeding because those viruses are not passed through your breast milk. If you have more serious diseases like HIV, HTLV-1, Ebola virus, or brucellosis, it is recommended to stop breastfeeding right away.

No matter what type of illness you have, you’re probably feeling completely exhausted and may even experience a lack of appetite or dehydration. If you feel like you need a break from nursing or are nervous about getting too close to your baby, you can pump your breastmilk instead.

Expressing, or pumping, your breastmilk and bottle-feeding your little one still harnesses all those beneficial antibodies and passes them to your baby. Remember to nurse or pump frequently, even when you're sick, to help maintain your milk supply.

Will Being Sick or Taking Medicine Affect My Milk Supply?

If you have the flu or another stomach bug, you’re at significant risk of dehydration, which can negatively impact your milk supply. Be sure you’re drinking enough fluids to regain your strength AND support your supply.

While you might not be feeling up to breastfeeding, try to continue to nurse or express breastmilk as often as you can throughout your illness so that your supply doesn’t take a nosedive. You might likely experience a temporary drop in milk supply, but it certainly won't be permanent. Focus on getting healthy, and then you can resume feeding on-demand to build back your supply to meet your growing baby’s needs.

While most medications are safe to take while breastfeeding (see below for more information), antihistamines that contain pseudoephedrine (like Sudafed) are harmful and will cause your milk to “dry up.” Avoid taking medicines that contain pseudoephedrine while you’re still breastfeeding so you don’t negatively impact your milk supply.

What Medicines Are Safe to Take While Breastfeeding?

If you’re sick and wondering what you can take to help relieve your symptoms, it’s always best to consult with your doctor and be sure to let them know that you’re breastfeeding. You’ll notice that nearly all over-the-counter medications are labelled with a warning for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. Your doctor can help clear up any questions you might have.

If your doctor has no concerns, medicines like Paracetamol, ibuprofen, antihistamines (Claritin), decongestants (NOT those containing pseudoephedrine), and many antibiotics are safe to take while breastfeeding.

It’s important to note that some antihistamines like Benadryl might cause your baby to be drowsy. Use these medications with caution.

There is no substitute for quality rest and keeping hydrated, so make these a priority even while you’re busy with all your other Mommy duties (like cooking, cleaning, diapering, chauffeuring, etc.). If some of these tasks need to be put on the back burner until you feel better, that’s okay!

You can also try non-medicated remedies to help you feel better, like using saline drops, running a cool-mist humidifier, staying hydrated, and eating foods rich in vitamin C. This will help you feel as good as possible so you can muster up the energy to feed your baby round the clock (while loading them up with those beneficial antibodies!).

How Can I Keep My Baby Healthy While I’m Sick?

Continuing to give your baby breastmilk throughout your illness is the best way you can protect your baby. That’s because of those amazing antibodies that you’re passing on to them that will help them ward off bacterial or airborne viruses that come their way.

In addition to breastfeeding, you’ll want to make sure you maintain proper hygiene when you’re around your baby, their bottles, and your breast pump.

These are all easy things you can do to protect your child from getting sick. Wash your hands often, clean and disinfect any surfaces you touch (including thoroughly cleaning your bottles and pump parts after each use), and wear a mask near your baby. Always make sure to cover your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing, especially if you’re in close contact (like during a breastfeeding session).

If you’re afraid that your baby will catch your cold, you can ask another healthy adult to step in and help care for your child. This will give you more time to rest and get better while they can feed your baby expressed breastmilk and take on other exhausting tasks like bathing, playing, and changing diapers.

While getting sick is not ideal, it does not mean that you can't breastfeed your baby. Just the opposite is true; you SHOULD continue to breastfeed, so your baby receives antibodies that they can only get through breastmilk (along with all the other benefits that breastmilk provides them).

If you have any questions or concerns, always address them with your doctor. They can identify the best course of treatment and offer sound medical advice to help you recover quickly and get back to tackling your busy schedule and conquering the world of motherhood.

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