Being sick while being a mom is tough. You don’t get quiet time or time to rest and recover, and you can’t take the day off. Parental obligations are 24/7.
However, your illness may be the least of your concerns. Chances are you’re more worried about the health of your little one than your own. After all, no parent wants to see their child sick — or be the cause of their illness.
So is it safe to breastfeed while sick?
The short answer is yes. In most cases it is safe — and advised — to continue breastfeeding while ill.
“It is completely safe to breastfeed while sick, and is actually good for your baby,” Kealy Hawk, RN, a certified lactation counselor, tells Healthline.
“When you are exposed to a sickness, your body creates antibodies in your breast milk, and if you breastfeed, your child will get these beneficial antibodies that will help them fight off the sickness or prevent them from getting it.”
Of course, there are a few exceptions. Read on to see if your particular illness could affect your child.
If you have a cold or the flu, you can breastfeed as normal. Your baby won’t catch the illness through your breast milk and may actually gain protection.
“It is safe to breastfeed while sick with a cold, flu, or a stomach bug, and I encourage people to do so if possible,” Sarah Quiggle, a certified breastfeeding specialist, labor and postpartum doula, and childbirth educator, tells Healthline.
Why? “The breast milk will provide antibodies for your baby and can protect against infection,” she notes.
That said, if you’re feeling too exhausted to keep up with your usual routine and/or you just need a break, you can pump or supplement.
While nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are uncomfortable symptoms — at best — stomach viruses cannot be passed through breast milk. In fact, as with other conditions, your baby may actually gain antibodies.
“The same properties of antibodies and immune factors apply [with stomach viruses] and can help protect the infant,” says Dr. Lauren Macaluso, a physician focusing on breastfeeding mothers and their children at Allied Physicians Group.
“What’s more, studies show breastfeeding infants have a decreased risk of gastrointestinal tract infections,” she notes.
However, as previously mentioned, breastfeeding while sick can be tiring, and the same holds true here.
If you choose to breastfeed while sick with a stomach virus, be sure to eat when you can, rest when you can, and take in extra fluids.
While there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding the transmission of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19, early research suggests the virus is not transmitted through breast milk.
One recent study found that antibodies found in breast milk could provide an infant with passive immunity to COVID-19 — all through breastfeeding alone.
The study suggests that the antibodies found in breast milk may be cross-reactive — meaning they can fight off components of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as a result of the breastfeeding parent being exposed to other types of coronavirus, or even the influenza virus.
If further studies prove that to be true, it means that breastfeeding alone -— even if you haven’t contracted SARS-CoV-2 — could protect your baby from becoming infected with the coronavirus and developing COVID-19.
“We do not know for sure if mothers with COVID-19 can spread the virus to [their] babies via breast milk,” the
That said, if you have COVID-19 and a newborn, you may want to consider temporarily separating from your child:
“[While the] CDC recognizes that the ideal setting for the care of a healthy, full-term newborn during the birth hospitalization is within the mother’s room, temporary separation of the newborn from a mother with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be considered to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to the newborn.”
If you have COVID-19 and choose to continue breastfeeding, be sure to wash your hands frequently and regularly — and before each feeding.
Disinfect any and all products that may come in contact with you, your baby, or your breast, and you should wear a mask. You may also want to keep formula on hand, just in case.
While most medications are safe while breastfeeding, some can be passed through breast milk — though the potential impact on your child will vary.
“Medications can pass through your breast milk, but most have little effect on the infant or milk supply,” Macaluso says.
For a comprehensive list of compatible prescription and over-the-counter medications, visit the National Library of Medicine’s
“When in doubt, speak with your doctor or pediatrician,” Hawk says. “Each person is different, and some things may not be safe.”
Being sick can have a negative effect on your milk supply for numerous reasons.
When ill, you tend to become dehydrated quickly, and the lack of fluids can cause your supply to decrease. You may also be feeding less frequently, and the lack of demand will cause your output to drop.
Medications may also play a part. Antihistamines, for example, can cause milk to “dry up.” As such, it is important to feed frequently and regularly.
“Being sick may decrease your milk supply, so it is important to keep up your normal feeding schedule,” Quiggle says. “I encourage my clients to breastfeed or pump often to maintain their milk supply.”
According to the
- T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II (HTLV – 1/2)
- Ebola virus
If you choose to breastfeed while sick, make sure general hygiene practices are being followed. Wash your hands regularly.
If you have to cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue or the crook of your elbow. Drink extra fluids and — when possible — consume extra nutrients, and rest.
Even though breastfeeding while sick is safe and recommended in most cases, if you need to take a break because you’re feeling lousy, that’s AOK! Rest up, and take in some extra fluids and nutrients if you can.
Rest assured, however, when you do breastfeed through your sickness, you are passing on important antibodies. The extra boost to your little one’s immunity is an amazing gift.
You may be surprised to find they remain healthy throughout your illness, and you’ll both be on the other end of this in no time.