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Fever. Chills. Baby rocking. Chicken noodle soup. Sore throat. Baby rocking. Cough. Hot tea. Baby rocking. If this is what your day looks like, you're likely asking yourself, "Is it safe to breastfeed while I’m sick?"
The good news is it IS safe to breastfeed, even if you have a cold or the flu. There are even medications you can take to get you back on the up and up. So, grab your blanket, Kleenex and babe and let’s dive into ways to take care of you and your little one when you’re feeling less than 100%.
If you have the common cold, the flu, diarrhea or even COVID-19, you’re safe to continue breastfeeding. In fact it is best to keep breastfeeding through almost any common illness.
Breastfeeding while you’re sick is actually very beneficial to your baby. Studies show that your breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off infection, which can even help prevent your baby from catching your cold.
Tip: Feeling too crummy to breastfeed directly? You can definitely still pump to express your milk and give your baby bottles at feeding time. If you’re worried about spreading germs via bottle, let your partner, a friend or a family member feed your baby while you rest.
Illnesses like the common cold, flu and even mastitis do not pass through your breast milk. The only things passed through your milk are specific antibodies that are unique to your baby and your illness.
Your body already knows what it’s trying to fight off and the antibodies created will pass through your milk and into your baby, so he or she can also fight back against the cold or flu. Pretty cool, huh?
Another point to note is that your baby was already exposed to the illness before you ever felt a symptom. The best thing you can do is to continue breastfeeding your baby. Plus, all the extra baby snuggles are great for when you’re feeling under the weather.
The cold, flu or other illness won’t have a direct effect on your breast milk supply. But, the symptoms of illness such as fatigue, dehydration or decreased appetite can temporarily decrease your milk production..
While you’re sick, it’s best to do what you can to ensure your supply stays consistent. Here are a few tips to help:
Breastfeed or pump often: Try to maintain or increase the number of times you breastfeed each day to keep your supply up. The more often you express your milk, the more milk your body will make. Plus, your partner, friend or family member can use your expressed milk to feed your baby via bottle, so you can get in a quick nap.
Hydrate and eat well: It’s easy to ignore your hunger when you’re sick. And some illnesses may cause vomiting which can lead to dehydration. You’ll want to make sure you’re still fueling your body to provide the nutrients it needs to produce milk. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and try munching on granola bars or trail mix between meals.
Rest, rest, rest: Take care of number one for once...for your body to be able to fight off illness, you must make time to rest. The quicker your body can recover, the faster your milk supply will recover too. Take care of you. Remember her?
If you notice your baby is experiencing symptoms such as a fever, cough or runny nose, call your doctor. They may need to be checked out, too. And, remember, any drop in your milk supply won’t last forever, so don’t fret. Just take care of yourself and throw in a few extra pumping sessions if you can.
Is there anything you can take to help with that headache or runny nose? Yes, many over-the-counter (OTC) medications like tylenol and ibuprofen are safe to take while breastfeeding.
LactMed is a database where you can search by medication to learn more about its effects in breastmilk and breastfed babies. If you are starting a new medication, particularly a prescription medication, it's always best to speak with your doctor first.
Some of the OTC medications safe for use while breastfeeding include:
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
Antihistamines (Claritin, Allegra)
Decongestants - American Academy of Pediatrics says medications with pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) are safe with breastfeeding although it may cause decrease milk supply and increase infant irritability
Avoid taking Naproxen, a common pain reliever, and Aspirin in high doses, as they could cause side effects in your baby.
A good rule of thumb is if it's safe to give directly to your baby, it is safe for you to take.
It will take your baby some time to develop a healthy immune system (breast milk definitely helps!). So, it’s best to do what you can to protect your baby:
Ask for help: It’s okay to ask for help, especially as a new parent struggling with an illness. Ask your partner to step in for feedings or bathtime. Or call a friend or family member who may be able to snuggle your baby for an hour or two.
Wash your hands often: Your hands will touch your baby hundreds of times each day, so make sure they’re clean.
Clean your pump too: Germs can also find their way into your pump, so make sure you’re cleaning your pump too. You should clean all of the parts after every pumping session to avoid bacteria build-up.
Clean commonly used surfaces: Surfaces such as bathroom countertops, kitchen countertops and light switches can be a hangout spot for germs. Spray them with disinfectant to prevent the spread. And to keep your baby and other kids safe from harmful chemicals, try using an EPA Safer Choice product.
There are a few illnesses that would require you to stop breastfeeding, according to the CDC. Here’s the CDC’s guidance:
Parents infected with HIV should not breastfeed or provide expressed breast milk to their babies. This is also true if you are suspected to have or are confirmed to have Ebola.
You should stop breastfeeding and pumping temporarily if you have brucellosis (a disease caused by bacteria) or an active herpes infection on your breast. It’s also recommended you stop breastfeeding if you’re going to have a diagnostic imaging test done.
If you have active tuberculosis or chickenpox, you should stop breastfeeding but can feed your baby expressed breast milk safely, as long as a caregiver feeds your baby on your behalf.
Dr. Michele Torosis is a Stanford University-trained Obstetrician and Gynecologist. She is currently completing her fellowship in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at UCLA, where she is receiving advanced training on pelvic floor disorders. She has a special interest in postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction including obstetric-related trauma. Dr. Torosis attended the University of California, Irvine for medical school and Duke University for her undergraduate education, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering.
Prior to completing medical school, Dr. Torosis was involved in the early stages of Willow's product development. She worked one on one with new moms for Willow's first-in-woman clinical trial and assisted with early device prototyping. Through her practice, she has remained passionate about improving the breastfeeding experience for all women.
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