With cold and flu season upon us many mothers have questions such as:
- Can I breastfeed if I am sick, will I pass the illness along to my baby?
- What should I do if the baby becomes sick?
- What medications can I take to help manage symptoms?
Continue breastfeeding if you come into contact with the flu or have the flu yourself. The flu virus is spread through respiratory droplets when a person coughs/sneezes/talks or if a person touches an infected surface then touches their mouth or nose, it is not transmitted through breast milk.
Furthermore, your breast milk has antibodies that will protect the baby from many colds and the flu. These antibodies destroy bacteria in a baby’s gut before they have the chance to make them ill. A baby’s saliva will enter a mother’s breast and can signal milk to change its composition to help fight illness.
Prevention is key
The most important thing you can do is take preventative measures to avoid colds and the flu. Avoid any sick contacts, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Disinfect surfaces regularly around your home and workplace. Be sure to wash your hands regularly.
Most importantly, discuss with your doctor receiving the flu vaccine for yourself and your baby. The flu vaccine is safe for breastfeeding mothers and infants older than 6 months. Refer to the CDC website for further details regarding this.
If you become ill
If you become ill yourself keep your baby close by and try to nurse while lying down. This will allow you much-needed rest. Be sure to increase your fluid intake as well, and always check with your doctor prior to taking any medications.
If you are feeling too ill to breastfeed or pump, express your milk to protect your supply and feed your baby using a cup/syringe/bottle. Expressing your milk is also very important should the situation arise where mom and baby are separated. You can discuss with your doctor bringing your baby to you to feed in the hospital. It can be normal for mothers to experience a brief decrease in milk production during periods of stress or illness.
If your baby becomes ill
If your baby has a cold or the flu, breast milk is ideal nutrition for him. If your baby is too ill to feed directly at the breast, a cup or syringe can be used to feed him or her your expressed milk. Withholding breast milk during periods of illness can increase the likelihood of your baby getting sick and deprives them of the comfort that comes along with breastfeeding.
Very rarely is a supplement of water or juice needed when your baby is sick. Instead, increase the frequency of feedings for your baby to help keep him or her hydrated. Speak with your pediatrician about treatments for your baby that may help cold or flu symptoms. However, if your baby is having decreased diaper output and is unable to keep feedings down contact your pediatrician.