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Mom's Sickness and Breastfeeding: Everything a Mom Should Know

Mom Health / Aug 08, 2022 / Vetted by Dr Jasmin Rajesh, MBBS, MD (Ped.)
breastfeeding when sick

For every mother, breastfeeding her newborn is the most satisfying and fulfilling experience. Most mothers continue breastfeeding through minor illnesses like coughs and colds. However, sometimes you may have health concerns that you feel will affect your baby if you continue breastfeeding.

Can I breastfeed if I am sick?

Organizations like the Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that babies be given only breastmilk in the first 6 months of their lives and continue breastfeeding later as well.

It is natural to worry, "Is it bad to breastfeed when sick?" and about passing on germs to the baby while breastfeeding. Whether or not to breastfeed in fever will depend on the type of illness you have.

For example, in the current COVID pandemic, WHO recommends that mothers continue breastfeeding even if they have COVID-19 as the risk of infection is less than the benefits of breastfeeding. Likewise, breastfeeding may be continued in the case of the following medical conditions:

  • Flu or flu-like symptoms.
  • HIV-positive mothers undergoing antiretroviral treatment: As per WHO guidelines, the risk of HIV transmission through breastfeeding is minimal if appropriate antiretroviral medication is given to HIV-positive mothers and babies.
  • Breast abscess; feeding can be continued from the unaffected breast.
  • Mastitis (infection of the breast): expressed breastmilk can be fed to the baby if breastfeeding is painful.
  • Hepatitis B: The baby should receive a vaccine in the first 48 hours or at the earliest.
  • Hepatitis C
  • Mothers with active tuberculosis who are receiving treatment: As per WHO, such mothers may breastfeed normally. Babies should be vaccinated with the BCG vaccine as soon as possible after birth with necessary precautions.
  • If the mother has chickenpox just before or after delivery, the baby can be fed expressed breastmilk instead of breastfeeding.

Will being sick reduce my milk supply?

It's the most asked question; can being sick reduce your milk supply? Your milk supply is proportional to your baby’s demand for milk and the frequency of breastfeeding.

Supplementing breast milk with formula can reduce the baby’s demand for breast milk and affect the milk supply. Some health conditions listed below may also reduce the supply.

  • Obesity
  • Stress
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and diabetes
  • Loss of appetite or low intake of fluids, and the inability to follow the breastfeeding schedule due to illnesses
  • Breast augmentation surgeries such as the placement of implants that damage the milk ducts or nerves in the breasts
  • Nasal decongestants used in cold medicine, such as pseudoephedrine

How can I protect my baby from my illness?

Always talk to your doctor about the health conditions in which you can safely breastfeed your baby. Here are a few tips which you can follow to breastfeed in fever and while protecting your baby from illnesses:
  • Wash your hands before you touch your baby.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and immediately discard it.
  • You may consider using a mask when you are holding your baby close to you.
  • Reduce face-to-face contact with your baby.

Which medicines should I avoid while breastfeeding?

Your baby may be affected by the medications you take. The following are the medications to avoid while breastfeeding:
  • Anticancer medicines
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Antithyroid medicines
  • Amiodarone (used for the treatment of irregular heartbeats)
  • Gold salts (for treating rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Radioactive substances are used in imaging studies
  • Atropine, reserpine, or psychotropic drugs

When should I stop breastfeeding if I am sick?

Although breastfeeding is the gold standard for feeding babies, you should avoid it if you have health conditions like:
  • Human T-cell lymphotropic virus infection
  • Ebola virus infection
  • Active herpes simplex infection with lesions on the breasts

It is best to breastfeed babies until the age of 6 months, as breastmilk offers complete nutrition. You should consult your doctor if you have an illness and are unsure whether to breastfeed in fever or not.

 

References: 

  1. World Health Organization. Breastfeeding and COVID-19 [2021].
  2. KidsHealth. Is it safe to breastfeed if I have the flu? [2020].
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contraindications to breastfeeding of feeding expressed milk to infants [2020].
  4. La Leche League GB. When a mother is ill [2020].
  5. Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital. Breastfeeding after breast augmentation surgery (Implants) [2021].

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