Most of us have heard of chickenpox but are maybe less familiar with shingles.

Shingles comes from the same varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox. In fact, shingles happens when this virus is already in a person’s body and gets reactivated later in life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 1 in 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime. And the rate of shingles has been increasing over the past 20 years.

Shingles is more common in adults over age 60 — particularly in those with lowered immunity. Yet the main reasons why shingles reactivate remain unclear.

The condition causes a skin rash and blisters on the body. Though it’s not life threatening, it can be incredibly painful and disrupt your quality of life. You may also experience a slight fever.

In most cases, shingles resolves after 2 to 4 weeks. Medication is available to help decrease the severity and length of a shingles case.

If you’ve developed shingles after giving birth, you may wonder how the condition affects your ability to nurse, breastfeed, or chestfeed.

This article reviews research on whether people with shingles can nurse and what you can do to best support your and your child’s health during this time.

Someone preparing to breastfeed a baby.Share on Pinterest
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No data indicates that shingles is more common in the postpartum period of life.

However, some experts speculate that people with lowered immune systems are more likely to get shingles. The postpartum period can be stressful and cause some healthy behaviors to fall to the wayside, so lowered immunity may occur.

According to the CDC, rates of shingles in the United States have been increasing in adults between ages 30 and 69, so new parents may be more likely to contract shingles now than in previous years.

That said, although shingles may occur postpartum, there is likely no increased risk for most people, and it’s not a common experience.

If you have shingles, you may have concerns about breastfeeding or chestfeeding.

Shingles itself cannot be passed to another person, but the varicella-zoster virus is contagious to others. It can cause chickenpox in those who have not yet had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine, such as infants.

Infection is spread through contact with the blisters that develop in an active shingles infection.

Yet nursing can still be safe if you have shingles. Even with an active shingles infection, you can still breastfeed or chestfeed as long as there are no skin lesions or open sores on the breast, according to the CDC.

If there are blisters on only one breast, you can still breastfeed with the other, unaffected one. Be sure to cover any blisters with clean, dry bandages to avoid direct contact with your baby.

Wash your hands with soap and water often. You can also work with a medical team to ensure you’re taking all necessary precautions while nursing to keep your baby safe.

If you cannot breastfeed or chestfeed due to blisters, it’s important to continue expressing your milk to maintain supply and prevent mastitis, 2020 research suggests.

Throw away the milk and continue until your skin heals and you can resume nursing. Before and after doing so, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water, and cover the blisters with bandages between expressing the milk.

During this time, work with a pediatrician or other healthcare professional to determine what’s best for you to feed your baby.

We understand it can be stressful, so you may consider getting additional lactation support via a lactation consultant, pediatrician, or another provider trained to assist the parents of infants.

Here are some common questions people have about shingles precautions to take when nursing.

Can shingles be passed through breast milk?

No, shingles cannot be passed through breast milk. The varicella-zoster virus can only be spread through open wounds, and it can cause chickenpox in those who do not have immunity.

Can antivirals be passed through breast milk?

A healthcare professional may prescribe an antiviral medication to treat the shingles.

Antivirals cannot be passed through breast milk. People who are taking antiviral medications to treat shingles can continue to breastfeed, per the CDC, as long as there are no open wounds on the breast.

Can a baby get chickenpox from someone with shingles?

It is possible for a baby to get chickenpox from someone with shingles. This is because they are not immune to the varicella-zoster virus, which causes both chickenpox and shingles.

This can occur only through direct contact with fluids from the open wounds and blisters caused by shingles.

Nursing can be safe for those who have shingles, but only if there are no blisters on the breast. That’s because direct contact with fluids from the blisters can cause chickenpox in newborns.

If you have blisters on your breast caused by shingles, it’s important to continue expressing your milk to prevent mastitis. Be vigilant about hygiene by washing your hands often and covering your lesions with bandages.

It may be helpful to reach out to a lactation specialist, pediatrician, or other healthcare professional for additional support.