Many new mothers want to know if they can breastfeed when they are sick. They worry that their illness will be passed on to the baby through the breast milk.
Breastfeeding Is Generally Safe
If you have a cold, the flu or almost any other common illness, breastfeeding while sick is safe and is actually still the preferred method for feeding your baby. With or without breastfeeding, your baby will most likely be exposed to your illness. However, when you are sick, your body makes antibodies to help fight off the illness. The advantage to breastfeeding is that your antibodies will be passed on to your baby through your breast milk, boosting your baby’s immune system.
The biggest concern for breastfeeding mothers while they are sick is not actually the illness, but the medications they might need to take. Always discuss any medications you may want to take with your health care provider if you are breastfeeding—even if they are over the counter.
A great resource for breastfeeding moms is LactMed, a website database run by the US National Library of Medicine that will help you determine if the medication you want to take is safe while breastfeeding.
If you have a more serious illness, such as HIV or hepatitis, you should discuss breastfeeding with your doctor before the baby is born.
How to Handle Different Symptoms
Certain symptoms concern mothers more than others and can be handled in different ways. These symptoms generally do not mean that you cannot breastfeed:
- Fever. One of the most common symptoms that nursing mothers ask about are fevers. Mothers who have a fever can continue to breastfeed and most medications that help relieve fevers, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil (ibuprofen), are safe while nursing as well. If you develop a fever in the first few weeks after giving birth, it is important to call your healthcare provider right away as it could indicate an infection or serious complication as a result of the birth.
- Vomiting and Diarrhea. Illnesses that cause vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration if they are not controlled. If you are a nursing mother who develops these symptoms, it is very important to make sure you do not get dehydrated because dehydration can affect your milk supply. If vomiting and diarrhea are uncontrollable and you are unable to hold down any fluids, you should see your healthcare provider.
- Cough. Coughs are a common symptom of colds and the flu. While these illnesses are contagious, they are are not a reason to stop breastfeeding. Do your best not to cough on the baby (whether or not you are breastfeeding) and discuss any medications you may want to take with your healthcare provider.
Keeping Your Baby Healthy
To avoid passing your illness on to your baby when you are sick, it’s important to keep these tips in mind:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid breathing and coughing on your baby. (Cover your cough)
- Check with your healthcare provider before taking any medications when you are breastfeeding.