Is it Safe to Breastfeed If...
content

Breastfeeding is usually a round-the-clock job because let’s face it -- no one else can breastfeed for you. Indeed, unless you fill up a few bottles with pumped breast milk so someone else can feed your infant, you are your baby’s number-one source of food. Because of this, you have likely already asked yourself, can I breastfeed while sick, and the answer to that is “yes,” in most situations you can.

 

Why Is it All Right to Breastfeed If You’re Sick?

When you get sick, your body automatically starts making extra antibodies to fight off the illness, and those antibodies are found in your breast milk. This means that when you’re sick, your baby is getting those extra antibodies and actually getting healthier each time you nurse. If you are breastfeeding with a cold or something similar and you’re concerned about your baby getting sick while you nurse, you can always wear a mask.

The truth is that in most cases, by the time your cold or flu has been diagnosed, the baby has already been exposed to it, which means that it won’t do you any good to stop nursing. You may be tempted to go ahead and wean the baby, especially if you’re very sick, but the baby will benefit much more from those extra antibodies they’ll be getting than they would from switching to formula at this point.

According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), breast milk will not transmit viruses such as cold and flu to the baby, so you don’t have to worry about it from that perspective. While you may feel lousy as you’re nursing, the baby will not be negatively affected because they cannot get sick from your illness and the extra antibodies are protecting them anyway.

 

Does This Mean That it’s Safe Regardless of the Illness?

Studies have shown that even if the mom has COVID-19, she can still breastfeed her baby. COVID-19, colds, and even the flu aren’t a reason to stop nursing your baby, but there are some rare illnesses which mean that you should stop nursing for a while or altogether.

These include:

  • HIV infection
  • Chickenpox
  • Untreated tuberculosis (after two weeks of treatment, you can resume breastfeeding)
  • Untreated brucellosis
  • Certain flu types, such as H1N1
  • Any Herpes Simplex lesion found on the breast (try nursing on the other breast instead)
  • Human T-cell lymphotropic virus (either Type I- or Type II-positive)

If you stop nursing temporarily but you still want to nurse when you’re well, you can “pump and dump” your milk to keep the milk supply from dwindling away. For permanent conditions such as HIV, it’s best not to breastfeed at all. As you can see, breastfeeding when sick is acceptable in most instances, but if you have any concerns, you should consult with your doctor.

One thing that you’ll want to do regardless of the situation is to wash your hands thoroughly before you nurse, and make sure that your breast pump is clean and sterilized before you use it. The cleaner everything is, the fewer germs will be spread to the baby, which should keep them a lot healthier in numerous ways.

 

What If You Need to Take an Antibiotic?

If you’re sick enough to need an antibiotic, keep in mind that there are medications that are safe for breastfeeding moms and those that aren’t. Among the “safe” antibiotics are:

  • Penicillin
  • Amoxicillin
  • Azithromycin

As far as unsafe antibiotics, they include sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim, doxycycline, and clindamycin. Nevertheless, before you take any type of antibiotic, you need to let the doctor know that you’re breastfeeding because each patient is different. Indeed, it’s a smart idea to ask your regular doctor if you can take a prescribed antibiotic since you’re nursing, as the answer may vary.

Even though the answer to the question, can you breastfeed while sick with the flu, is “yes,” this doesn’t mean that some precautions aren’t recommended. While you’re sick, wash your hands frequently, limit close contact with the baby, avoid touching your face, and consider taking a probiotic to speed up the healing process.

And when you’re feeling extra lousy but you don’t want to take medication unless you have to, you can try numerous natural remedies such as apple cider vinegar (ACV), elderberry syrup, honey, garlic, and of course, chicken soup. In fact, you can pour honey (preferably local honey) in tea or even hot water and drink it to help you feel better faster.

To be sure, nursing while you’re ill can be done without worrying about the baby’s health, and if you feel too poorly to breastfeed, go ahead and pump some milk into a bottle and let someone else feed the baby. If you have any concerns whatsoever, make sure that you contact your doctor, but in the majority of cases, the doctor will tell you that you can nurse just as you would if you weren’t sick.

Finally, use a little common sense in these instances. Do everything in your power to keep as many germs as possible away from the baby, wear a mask if you can, and wash your hands frequently.

 

Conclusion

Even if you have a cold or the flu, you can still breastfeed your baby. In fact, with rare exceptions such as HIV or chickenpox, not only is breastfeeding allowed but it is often recommended by the doctor. This is because of the extra antibodies your body is producing to fight off your illness, which are great for both you and the baby.