Breastfeeding during illness

What to Know

  • Breastfeeding during illness is usually safe, and can actually help protect your baby from getting sick
  • Many medications are compatible with breastfeeding
  • Learn when it is not advisable to continue breastfeeding

It is usually safe to continue breastfeeding if you become sick with a common illness such as a cold, flu, mastitis, stomach virus or food poisoning. While most common illnesses are not passed through breastmilk, by the time you exhibit symptoms your baby has likely already been exposed. Continuing to breastfeed can actually help protect your baby from becoming sick because your body will produce antibodies to the illness and these antibodies pass into your breastmilk. So if you stop breastfeeding, you can actually increase the risk of your baby getting what you’ve got because she won’t be getting the benefits from your mature immune system response.

Mother holding her baby

Always speak to your doctor before taking any medications (both prescription and over the counter) to find out if they are compatible with nursing. While many medications are safe to take while nursing, especially if for a short time, err on the side of caution. And be aware that some medications can decrease your milk supply.

Certain serious illnesses and medications will contraindicate breastfeeding. These include HIV, AIDS, antiretroviral medications, untreated or active tuberculosis, untreated brucellosis human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II, radiation treatment, and some types of chemotherapy. You should also suspend nursing until seen by your healthcare provider if you have a herpes lesion or syphilitic lesion on the breast or nipple or if you have a draining abscess.

What to Do

Continue to nurse as frequently as usual while sick with a common illness

If you’re feeling weak or lethargic, try nursing in a side lying position so that you don’t have to hold your baby. If you are hospitalized and separated from your baby, use your breast pump to continue supplying milk to your baby and to maintain your milk supply and get help from hospital staff (ask your family support system to advocate for you if necessary).

Practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of illness in your home

Wash your hands regularly, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with a tissue or the crook of your elbow, and avoid face-to-face contact with your baby while you’re symptomatic.

Take good care of yourself when you’re sick

If you are able, get some help for a few days until you start to feel better. It’s important to keep yourself hydrated, especially if you’re running a fever or have been experiencing vomiting or diarrhea. And it is important to increase the quality of your diet—you want to support your body while reducing its workload.

Inform your doctor or pharmacist that you are breastfeeding

If your doctor prescribes any medications (or you pick up any over the counter meds) be sure to ask if they are compatible with nursing. If not, it’s likely you can switch to a medication that’s safe for you and your baby.

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