Breastfeeding While Sick – Common Questions Answered by an Expert

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

As an RN and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I understand the concerns and questions that arise when breastfeeding while sick. Here are some answers and tips to address common concerns:

How should mom approach breastfeeding when she is sick?

If you are a breastfeeding mom who falls ill, it is essential to prioritize both your health and your baby's wellbeing. Here are some steps to consider when dealing with breastfeeding while sick:

Continue Breastfeeding: In most cases, it is safe to continue breastfeeding when you are sick. Breast milk provides essential antibodies and immune factors that help protect your baby from infections. Even if you are feeling under the weather, breastfeeding can offer comfort and nourishment to your baby.

Practice Good Hygiene: To minimize the risk of transmitting germs to your baby, use good hygiene practices. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before each breastfeeding session. If you are coughing or sneezing, consider wearing a mask while breastfeeding to reduce the spread of germs.

Stay Hydrated and Rested: Illness can take a toll on your body, so it is crucial to stay hydrated and well-rested. Drink plenty of fluids, such as water, herbal teas, or electrolyte-rich beverages to prevent dehydration. Try to get adequate rest whenever possible, even if it means asking for help with childcare duties.

Eat Nutritious Foods: While you may not have much of an appetite when you are sick, try to eat nutritious foods that can support your recovery and maintain your energy levels. Focus on consuming a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

Take Pain Medicine, With Guidance from Your Doctor: Both ibuprofen and acetaminophen are generally considered safe to use when breastfeeding, but it is essential to use them according to the recommended dosage and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Seek Medical Advice if Needed: If your symptoms are severe or prolonged, or if you have concerns about your ability to breastfeed while sick, do not hesitate to seek medical advice. Your healthcare provider can offer guidance tailored to your specific situation and provide recommendations for managing your illness while breastfeeding.

Overall, the key is to listen to your body, prioritize self-care, and continue breastfeeding as long as it is safe to do so. By taking steps to support your own health, you can also ensure the well-being of your baby during this time.

Will breast milk supply decrease during illness?

During illness, various factors can influence your milk supply, potentially leading to a temporary decrease. Dehydration is a common concern, as illnesses often cause fever, sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea, all of which can lead to fluid loss. Additionally, reduced appetite or discomfort may affect your ability to eat nutritious foods, impacting your body's energy and nutrient levels.

To counteract these effects and maintain your milk supply, it is crucial to prioritize hydration and nutrition. Drinking plenty of fluids can help replenish lost fluids and support milk production. Aim to consume small, frequent meals and snacks rich in essential nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products can provide the necessary energy and nourishment your body needs.

In addition to hydration and nutrition, frequent nursing or pumping plays a vital role in maintaining milk supply during illness. The act of breastfeeding stimulates your body to produce more milk, responding to your baby's demand. Even if you are not feeling well, try to nurse your baby as often as they desire, allowing them to nurse on demand. If direct breastfeeding is not feasible, pumping breast milk can help maintain milk production and provide expressed milk for your baby's feedings.

Remember, your body is resilient and adaptive, and with proper care and support, your milk supply can rebound after illness. By prioritizing hydration, nutrition, and frequent breastfeeding or pumping, you can help ensure a steady milk supply for your baby's continued nourishment and well-being, even during challenging times of illness.

If your milk supply has gone down already, how can you bring it back up?

When seeking to boost milk supply, frequent nursing or pumping sessions are key. By nursing or pumping more often, you stimulate your body to produce more milk, responding to the increased demand. Additionally, practicing skin-to-skin contact with your baby can further enhance the release of breastfeeding hormones, promoting milk production.

It is essential to understand that increasing milk supply is a gradual process and may not happen overnight. It is common for it to take a few days to notice a significant increase in supply. Consistency is key; continue nursing or pumping regularly, even if you don't see immediate results. Every woman's body responds differently, so be patient and persistent in your efforts to boost milk production. If you have concerns or need personalized guidance, do not hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant or healthcare provider for support tailored to your unique needs.

What if you can't keep water down?

If you find yourself unable to tolerate drinking water due to nausea or vomiting, it is crucial to find alternative ways to stay hydrated. One approach is to try small, frequent sips of clear fluids or sucking on ice chips throughout the day. Clear fluids like electrolyte drinks, broth, or diluted fruit juice can help replenish fluids and electrolytes lost through vomiting or diarrhea.

In addition to clear fluids, certain foods and beverages may be easier to tolerate when experiencing nausea or dehydration. Popsicles made from fruit juice or electrolyte solutions can provide both hydration and some nourishment. Similarly, gelatin (such as Jell-O) can offer hydration along with a source of calories. Ginger ale or warm herbal teas, particularly those containing ingredients like ginger, may help alleviate nausea and settle the stomach.

However, if you are unable to keep any fluids down, or if symptoms of dehydration persist despite your efforts, it is important to seek medical attention promptly. Severe dehydration can have serious health consequences, especially for breastfeeding mothers and their babies. Your healthcare provider can assess your condition, provide appropriate treatment, and offer guidance on managing dehydration while breastfeeding.

If you get sick and breastfeed, will the baby get sick?

Continuing to breastfeed while you are sick is not only safe but also beneficial for your baby. Even before you show symptoms, your body begins producing antibodies specific to your illness, passing them on to your baby through breast milk. This immediate immune support helps shield your little one if they have been exposed. To further reduce the risk of transmitting germs, it is essential to maintain excellent hygiene practices, such as washing your hands thoroughly before each breastfeeding session. This simple measure goes a long way in protecting your baby from potential infections.

Getting sick is never fun, let alone when you have a young baby and are breastfeeding. But you and your body are resilient, and with a little time and care, you should be back to normal soon and be able to resume your regular routine for your family.

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.