Breastfeeding Your Baby While They Are Sick: An Expert Guide

By Terressa Patterson RN BSN MS IBCLC
In partnership with Dr. Brown's Company

Should you continue to breastfeed baby while they are sick?

Breastfeeding is crucial for sick babies as breast milk provides vital nutrients and antibodies that can help them recover faster. Nurse frequently to keep your baby hydrated and comforted.

What if baby does not want to eat?

Offering the breast frequently, especially during times when your baby is sick, is essential for providing comfort, hydration, and immune support. Even if your baby does not appear particularly interested in nursing or is not taking in large amounts of milk, comfort nursing can still offer valuable benefits. During these sessions, your baby may engage in non-nutritive sucking, which provides them with a sense of security and helps to soothe them during times of discomfort or distress. This form of sucking stimulates the release of hormones, such as oxytocin, promoting relaxation and bonding between you and your baby. Additionally, the skin-to-skin contact that occurs during breastfeeding has numerous benefits for both you and your baby, especially when your little one is unwell. It helps regulate your baby's body temperature, heart rate, and breathing, promoting a sense of calm and stability during illness. Even if your baby is not actively nursing for long periods or seems more interested in comfort nursing than feeding, these sessions still provide hydration and important immune factors found in breast milk, supporting their recovery.

However, if you have any concerns about your baby's symptoms or overall condition, don't hesitate to reach out to their pediatrician for guidance and support. Your baby's pediatrician is a valuable resource who can provide expert advice tailored to your baby's specific needs. They can help you assess whether your baby's symptoms are typical of their illness or if there may be underlying concerns that require further evaluation. Additionally, if you notice any worrisome signs during breastfeeding, such as difficulty latching, persistent fussiness, or unusual changes in your baby's feeding patterns, it's essential to discuss these concerns with their pediatrician promptly. By maintaining open communication with your baby's healthcare provider, you can ensure that any issues or challenges are addressed promptly, helping to support your baby's health and well-being during their illness. Remember, you are not alone in caring for your baby, and your pediatrician is there to offer guidance, reassurance, and expertise whenever you need it.

What if baby wants to breastfeed more than usual while they're sick?

When babies are sick, they often turn to breastfeeding for comfort and hydration. Nursing provides them with not only essential nutrients but also comfort and security during times of illness. It is common for sick babies to nurse more frequently than usual, as they seek the soothing sensation of breastfeeding and the hydration provided by breast milk.

As a parent, it is important to respond to your baby's cues and allow them to nurse on demand. This means offering the breast whenever your baby shows signs of hunger or distress, even if it seems like they've just finished nursing. By allowing your baby to nurse as often as they need, you can ensure they receive the nourishment and comfort necessary for their recovery.

In addition to meeting your baby's needs, it is equally important to take care of yourself during this time. Coping with the increased nursing sessions can be physically and emotionally demanding, so prioritize self-care. Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, such as water, herbal teas, or electrolyte-rich beverages. Adequate hydration is essential for maintaining your milk supply and supporting your overall well-being.

Furthermore, try to rest whenever possible, even if it means asking for help with household chores or childcare duties. Rest is crucial for your own recovery and can help you cope with the demands of caring for a sick baby. Remember that taking care of yourself enables you to better care for your baby, so don't hesitate to prioritize your own needs during this challenging time.

Does breast milk change while baby is sick?

When your baby is sick, your body's remarkable ability to adapt kicks into gear, influencing the composition of your breast milk to meet your baby's specific needs. Breast milk is incredibly dynamic, and it can indeed change in response to your baby's illness.

During times of illness, your body produces a higher concentration of antibodies and immune factors that are specifically targeted to combat the particular illness your baby is facing. These antibodies, such as Immunoglobulin A (IgA), help to strengthen your baby's immune system and provide protection against the specific pathogens causing their illness. This tailored response is truly remarkable and highlights the unique benefits of breastfeeding. Unlike formula, which remains static in composition, breast milk adjusts in real-time to provide the optimal support and protection for your baby's health.

So, when your baby is sick, breastfeeding not only offers comfort and nourishment but also provides a powerful immune boost tailored to help them fight off their illness more effectively. It is yet another incredible example of the intricate connection between a mother and her child, and the extraordinary capabilities of breast milk to adapt and nurture.

Should you try to give baby milk with colostrum if it's available?

Colostrum is highly beneficial for babies, especially when they are sick, as it is rich in antibodies and immune-boosting factors. If you have colostrum available, offering it to your baby can provide additional support during illness.

Any additional tips?

Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and prioritize self-care to support your own recovery while breastfeeding. Reach out to a healthcare provider or lactation consultant if you have concerns about breastfeeding while sick or if your baby shows signs of illness.

Remember, breastfeeding is a powerful way to support your baby's health, even during times of illness. Trust your instincts, take care of yourself, and seek support when needed.

The information contained is for informational purposes only and is NOT intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely solely on this information. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider.