Breastfeeding while sick
Breastfeeding with an illness / medical condition
It’s logical to think that if you or your baby are unwell, then breastfeeding should be stopped temporarily.
The truth is, however, that for nearly every illness, it’s important for breastfeeding to continue.
If you have an infection, your body makes antibodies against the specific organism that is causing the infection, and those antibodies go into your breast milk and help to protect your baby.
Even if your baby catches the infection, your antibodies help him to recover faster. Sometimes babies won’t catch the illness because of the antibody protection.
If your baby gets a specific infection, your breasts will make antibodies specific to that particular infection, helping your baby to get better.
The antibodies go into your breast milk, which helps to protect your baby, and they will also protect you as well.
Be assured that this fantastic protective mechanism will go on for as long as you breastfeed.
Unfortunately, formula milk doesn’t offer such protection.
If you decide not to breastfeed your baby because one or the other of you were ill, then understand it can increase the chances of being sicker!
If you have a sore throat or a cold or flu, know that you can carry on breastfeeding.
If you need to take any medications, it’s best to check that those medications are compatible with breastfeeding.
Even if you have a gastric infection, breastfeeding is still an important thing to do for you and your baby.
A real life example is a family that became infected with salmonella. Every member of that family caught this infection, and the mother was very distressed wondering if she should carry on breastfeeding. The answer was a clear ‘yes’.
Her baby did have a small episode of diarrhea, but was well, while all of the other family members were not so well. It was important for that family that she carried on breastfeeding, and that would be the case for most episodes of food poisoning.
If, however, the food poisoning progressed to septicemia, it might be necessary to stop breastfeeding for a short time, depending on the medications prescribed.
If this ever occurs to you, your best way to prevent your baby from becoming ill is by taking all the usual preventative measures.
Washing of hands, avoiding coughing or sneezing on your baby, and trying to make sure that you feed frequently enough.
It would also be really important to drink to thirst to keep up your supply, as milk supply can sometimes drop a little in these circumstances.
Try not to be alarmed if this does happen – your milk supply can be boosted up again. As soon as you start to recover things will improve.
One of the comforting things about breastfeeding, when you are unwell, is being able to keep your baby close while allowing lots of frequent feeding, and most importantly, lots of rest to aid your recovery.
In regard to more serious illnesses, even chronic conditions like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis are compatible with breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding can continue in these situations and can actually be really good for both mother and baby.
In developed countries, the only exceptions to this are HIV and HTLV-1, which are presently not considered to be compatible with breastfeeding.
Studies show that breastfeeding while you’re ill can help to relieve stress in both yourself and your baby and give you a greater feeling of control.
For many, it can feel like the one thing that you can do for your baby, providing comfort and food even during a difficult situation.
Review dates, references & further resources
Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022
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