Is It Ok To Breastfeed When Sick?

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Is It Ok To Breastfeed When Sick

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Mothers can continue to breastfeed their little ones during common illnesses, such as flu, fever, cold, mastitis, and diarrhea. You may follow a regular breastfeeding routine to meet your baby’s nutritional needs if the illnesses do not pass through breast milk. Mothers may ensure good hygiene, adequate hydration, and a healthy diet during illness to avoid complications.

Changes in feeding schedules or expressing breast milk could be helpful for mothers undergoing treatment. Cessation of breastfeeding is recommended during certain illnesses and treatment if the risks outweigh the benefits.

Read this post to know about the safety, indications, contraindications, and ways to breastfeed during sickness.

Is It Safe To Breastfeed When Sick?

Breastfeeding is safe during common illnesses such as colds or flu. Many babies can benefit from breast milk since they get antibodies against the illness. If you are too tired to breastfeed, you may try expressing and storing the milk since it is the source of nourishment for exclusively breastfed babies (1).

Mothers with active COVID-19 infections are also allowed to express the milk and get help from a caregiver to feed the baby until the infection clears (2). The evidence suggests that breast milk is the safest feed for babies, and it contains antibodies and other immune factors to fight infections.

Doctors may not recommend breastfeeding in some cases after weighing the benefits and risks. You may talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant to make a suitable decision if you are suffering from chronic conditions.

Do Illnesses Pass Through Breast Milk?

Certain illnesses can pass from the mother to the baby through breast milk (3).

  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) may cause AIDS
  • HTLV-1and HTLV-2 (human T-lymphotropic virus) may cause myelopathy and cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma
  • Brucellosis is a bacterial infection caused by brucella, resulting in Malta fever
  • Untreated active tuberculosis

Common infections, such as cold and flu, do not pass through breast milk. Evidence also suggests that the new COVID-19 infection does not pass through breast milk.

Illnesses Or Conditions During Which You Can’t Breastfeed

Women are advised to stop breastfeeding in certain illnesses to prevent spreading it to the baby. Breastfeeding is also contraindicated if the mother has chronic illness requiring long-term prescription of certain medications. The decision to breastfeed or not is often made based on the availability of alternate feeds and the risks and benefits of breastfeeding.

Doctors may recommend stopping breastfeeding in the following situations (4) (5).

  • Active infections where the pathogens can pass through breast milk, such as HIV, active untreated tuberculosis, and HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 infections
  • HIV/AIDS treatment with antiretroviral drugs
  • Cancer treatment with chemotherapeutic drugs and radiation
  • Breastfeeding may not be indicated in chronic conditions, such as diabetes, thyroid issues, bowel disorders, or underweight. The decision may vary based on individual circumstances
  • Breastfeeding may not be possible or challenging in women who underwent certain breast surgeries
  • Breastfeeding is not suggested for Infants with galactosemia since this may cause galactose to build up in their body, causing complications
  • Certain sleep-aid medications and antipsychotics

Although Zika viruses are detected in breast milk, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends continuing breastfeeding since there are no known cases of Zika virus transmission through breast milk (6).

Does Being Sick Affect The Milk Supply?

Sickness may reduce milk supply if the mother is not pumping or feeding as usual. This is not a permanent drop, and the supply goes back to normal after the illness. Sometimes, medications may interfere with milk production. Certain medications are known to lower milk production.

You may ensure that your baby is adequately fed and hydrated. Exclusively breastfed infants can be affected by a significant drop in milk supply. You must seek medical care to get prescriptions for safe lactation medications and to know the tips to breastfeed while taking medications.

How To Prevent Your Baby From Catching Your Illness?

Viral illnesses are contagious, and often babies can be infected by mothers and caregivers. The following tips may help reduce the risk of spreading illnesses to your baby when breastfeeding.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before touching the baby or before handling any of their belongings. You may also try alcohol-based sanitizer to disinfect the hands.
  • Avoid sneezing or coughing near the baby.
  • Wear a mask while breastfeeding during respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19. Mothers may also use face shields while breastfeeding. Face shields and masks are not recommended for infants since they may interfere with their breathing.
  • If you are infected with highly infectious diseases, such as H1N1 (swine flu) or COVID-19, you may express milk instead of directly breastfeeding.
  • Get the annual flu vaccine.
  • Practice good hand hygiene and other hygiene measures to avoid contracting infections.

Cessation of breastfeeding is not recommended to prevent the spread of common viral infections to the baby. You may maintain good hygiene and express milk if necessary. Take recommended safety measures to avoid contamination of breast milk and feeding bottles while expressing and storing breast milk.

Is Medication Safe While Breastfeeding?

Most of the medications are safe while nursing. However, the amount of medication that reaches breast milk may depend on the dosage and the mother’s body’s elimination rate. Low doses of short-term medications are usually given to nursing mothers (7).

You may feed the baby or express and store the breast milk before taking the medication. Each medication has its mechanism of clearance. Some medications in lower doses can also accumulate over time and result in toxicity.

Some medications are contraindicated in breastfeeding women due to infant toxicity. Seeking prescriptions is ideal for nursing mothers. You may also know the safety of medications from databases, such as LactMed. Always look for signs of toxicity in babies despite being on a safe prescription.

What Are The Safe Cold Remedies For Nursing Moms?

Cold is a common illness in many nursing mothers. You may not require any specific medications to cure a common cold. The following remedies may help nursing moms to deal with cold.

  • Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water may help to soothe the cold symptoms and prevent dehydration. You may also try diluted fruit juices, soups (broth), and tea.
  • Use a humidifier: Cool-mist humidifier can moist the air and reduce the dry cough. Dry air often worsens the cough.
  • Include vitamin C in diet: Vegetables such as tomato, spinach, and broccoli, and fruits such as oranges, kiwi, mango, strawberries, and lemon are good sources of vitamin C.
  • Include zinc in diet: Zinc helps to boost immunity. You may add zinc-rich foods, such as oatmeal, wheat germ, eggs, beef, and turkey, to your diet.

Nursing is more than feeding; it enhances the mother-child bond. However, it is not advised to breastfeed in certain circumstances if the risks outweigh the benefits of breastfeeding. You may use alternative feeds, such as infant formula, to meet your baby’s nutritional needs. Never hesitate to contact your doctor when breastfeeding during sickness.


MomJunction’s health articles are written after analyzing various scientific reports and assertions from expert authors and institutions. Our references (citations) consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

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