Breastfeeding with an illness / medical condition

Breastfeeding with an illness / medical condition - Transcript

It can be logical to think that if you are ill or your baby is ill that breastfeeding should be stopped temporarily perhaps. The truth is that for nearly every illness it’s important that breastfeeding carries on.

If you have an illness your body makes antibodies against that particular bug that you have, and those antibodies will go into your breast milk and then help to protect your baby from the same bug that you have picked up yourself. It might be that your baby still catches that bug, but your antibodies will help your baby to get better faster. Sometimes babies don’t even pick up that particular illness because of the antibodies.

If your baby gets a specific bug then your breasts themselves will make antibodies, specific to that bug, helping your baby to get better. Those antibodies will go into your breastmilk, protecting your baby and they will also protect you as well. And please be assured that this fantastic mechanism will go on for as long as you breastfeed – that protection for both you and your baby. Unfortunately formula doesn’t have such a mechanism.

So the truth is, that if you did decide not to breastfeed your baby because one or other of you were ill then it can actually increase the chances of being more sick.

If you have a sore throat or a cold or flu please be reassured that you can carry on breastfeeding, and if you do happen to take any medications it’s always good to check that those medications are compatible with breastfeeding. Even if you have a stomach bug, breastfeeding is still an important thing to do for you and your baby.

I did actually know a family who came down with salmonella. Every member of that family had that and the Mum rang me up one day. I remember I was in a supermarket – she rang me up and I was having a chat to her on the phone. She was in a panic, asking about whether she should carry on breastfeeding. It was important that she should, and her baby did get a tiny tiny bit of diarrhoea but was totally well and all of the other family members were not so well. So it was important for that family that she carried on breastfeeding, and that that would be the case for most episodes of food poisoning.

If however the food poisoning progressed to something like septicaemia, it could be temporarily necessary to stop breastfeeding just for a short time, depending on the medications that were given. If you did find yourself in this situation it would be important to prevent your baby getting ill by taking all the usual preventative measures – washing your hands, avoiding coughing or sneezing on your baby and such like, and try to make sure that you feed frequently enough and you drink to thirst as well, Keeping up your supply – because sometimes when you’re ill the supply will drop a little. Don’t be alarmed if this does happen – it can certainly be boosted up again, and as soon as you start to recover things will improve.

And one of the nice things if there is anything nice when you’re ill is if you were breastfeeding just to keep your baby close, 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 not incompatible 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 not considered to be compatible with breastfeeding. And finally it’s also fantastic to know that studies are showing that breastfeeding while you’re ill can help to relieve stress in both you and your baby and give you a much greater feeling of control, and it’s the one thing that you can still do for your baby providing comfort and food even in the midst of a difficult situation.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

V1 published June 2017. Next review date: April 2020

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