Let’s say you catch a cold, get the flu or experience the misfortune that is food poisoning. Can you pass any of those or other common illnesses to your baby through breast milk? The answer is NO. It is extremely rare for any common illness to be passed through breastmilk and unless you have explicit directions from your care provider, you definitely don’t need to stop breastfeeding while you’re sick.
I think we can all agree that the last thing we want to do is pass on any illness to our baby, so let’s breakdown this common misunderstanding.
Benefits to Baby
In addition to all the goodness that your breast milk already contains, when you’re sick it also contains antibodies specific to what you’re fighting off. This means that those antibodies are passed through your milk to your nursling, giving them extra protection against catching your illness, or helping them fight it off if they already have it.
The majority of the time, your breastfed child will also have been exposed to whatever caused you to get sick before you even started showing symptoms. Continuing to breastfeed is the best way to prevent them from getting sick as well.
Benefits to Nursing Parent
A change in routine, especially your breastfeeding routine, isn’t a great way to promote healing. Continuing to nurse helps the nursing parent avoid mastitis and plugged ducts (which can end up being far more unpleasant than the original illness), as well as the chance for your milk supply to drop.
A sudden loss of the connection that nursing provides, even if only temporary, can be cause for mental distress; something that could potentially compound the original illness. Continuing to nurse while sick allows the parent and child to maintain a close bond and the release of oxytocin.
Breastfeeding requires you to be still. (Unless you’ve mastered the art of mobile breastfeeding, in which case – go you!) Being still and resting go hand in hand with getting back to full health. Get comfy on the couch with your nursling, or have a partner or helper bring the child into bed with you to nurse if you don’t feel well enough to get up. The side-lying nursing position is great in that situation.
If having your child to your breast isn’t possible, do your best to pump or hand-express as often as you would nurse.
Precautions & Advice
It’s not uncommon for your milk supply to take a bit of a dip while you’re sick, especially if you’re producing a lot of mucus or losing fluids through vomit or diarrhea. Be sure to up your fluid intake to help minimize that risk and keep your body hydrated.
If your illness requires medication be sure to let your care provider know that you are breastfeeding. Some medications could be transferred through breast milk but as long as your care provider is aware, they should be able to prescribe something that will be safe for you and your little one.
As always – be sure to wash your hands, surfaces, cover sneezes and coughs, and maybe the hardest of all…avoid kissing that cute little baby face.
The Center for Disease Control has a comprehensive list of illnesses that would result in the recommendation not to breastfeed. Note that they are not common illnesses.