Breastfeeding While Sick

It is not unusual for mothers to get sick while caring for a baby. But many women wonder if they can continue breastfeeding while sick. If you develop a cold or some other viral or bacterial infection while caring for a baby, you may be a little bit worried about passing your infection to your little one. But the truth is that your baby is also exposed to the same microbes before you even know you’re sick. Besides, your milk contains proteins called antibodies which can help protect your baby from getting ill.

Should I Breastfeed If I’m Sick?

Yes, you can continue breastfeeding while sick. If you get a cold or flu which is common illness that can affect anyone, you can still care for your baby. Even when you have a fever, your body is producing proteins called antibodies to fight infection. This natural immune response is passed on to your baby through breast milk, which in turn, will help protect the baby from illness.

However, if you have been feeling ill for more than three days and your condition gets worse, it is best to see your doctor because you may need treatment to restore your own health. You may be harboring bacteria which must be treated with antibiotics. In this case, tell your doctor that you are breastfeeding while sickso that he/she can prescribe the proper antibiotics. Ask your doctor before taking over-the-counter medications.

In case the medications you need are not safe for use while lactating, you can pump and store your milk, then take the medications. In this way, you will have a supply of breast milk for your baby. You may also choose to give her formula for the meantime, until it is safe for you to go back to breastfeeding.

When to Say No

Although breast milk is usually best for babies, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not advise nursing if a mom has tuberculosis, HIV or human T-cell lymphotropic virus. Mothers who are on chemotherapy or undergoing radiotherapy for cancer are also not advised to breastfeed. In addition, infants who are diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called galactosemia must not be breastfed.

How to Relieve the Illness While Breastfeeding

1. Cold or Flu

If you are breastfeeding while sick with colds or flu, limit your contact with your baby. You can also ask someone to bottle-feed the baby with milk pumped from your breast or with formula if you are not feeling well. In addition:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching or holding your baby.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a face mask.
  • Avoid sneezing or coughing into your baby. Sneeze unto a tissue and throw it away then wash your hands again.
  • Place a clean blanket between you and the baby while holding.
  • Wash breasts with mild soap and warm water before breastfeeding.
  • Avoid sharing drinking glasses, utensils, towels, washcloths, beds, pillows and blankets for at least 5 days or until you are well.

2. Diarrhea

If you get sick with diarrhea while breastfeeding, you may be worried about making your baby ill. Breastfeeding while sick with diarrhea is possible. The most important thing, though, is to practice good hygiene. In addition, most cases of diarrhea get better within a couple of days, so you do not need to stop nursing.

  • If you are worried that your breast milk will decrease because you are ill, just keep yourself hydrated by increasing your fluid intake. However, it is best to call your doctor if you are losing lots of fluids with your bowel movements.
  • To relieve your symptoms, eat a simple BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast) diet. Avoid foods that contain sugar or artificial sweeteners or taking caffeine or alcohol.
  • If you have a bacterial infection, ask your doctor for antibiotics that may be used while breastfeeding.

3. Food Poisoning

If you get food poisoning, bacteria stay within your gastrointestinal system and are not passed on to your baby. However, it may be difficult to care for your baby if you have to go to the bathroom frequently.

Here are a few tips to ease breastfeeding a baby:

  • Lie down with your baby or keep her in a nearby bassinet. If she is older and more active, ask someone to help you and bring her to you when she wants to nurse.
  • Lie down while breastfeeding.
  • Stay hydrated by sipping Gatorade or water all day. Call your doctor or go to the emergency roomif you are feeling weak and dehydrated.

4. Mastitis

Mastitis or breast infection is a common problem that results in cracked and sore nipples, although you can develop it without seeing an open wound. It can also develop from wearing a tight bra or from not draining milk from the breasts, causing blockage in the milk ducts. You can still continue breastfeeding while sick with mastitis because it actually helps unblock the milk ducts and relieves soreness. Here are things that can make you feel better:

  • Apply warm compress to your breast before you breastfeed or pump milk. Massage the affected breast area gently towards the nipple.
  • Try leaning over towards the baby while nursing to help unblock the ducts. Vary nursing positions until ducts are emptied.
  • Apply a cold compress between feeding to reduce breast inflammation and pain.

5. Strep Throat

If you develop strep throat while breastfeeding, try these simple remedies:

  • Take warm water or lemon tea with honey to relieve throat pain.
  • Gargle several times a day with warm salt water.
  • Moisten your painful throat using a humidifier or vaporizer.
  • Take throat lozenges to relieve sore throat.

If you are worried about breastfeeding while sick with strep throat, just take precautionary measures such as:

  • Wash your hands before holding your baby.
  • Avoid face-to-face contact with the baby.
  • Ask your partner to avoid contact with the baby if he is also suffering from strep throat.
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