If you’re a breastfeeding mom, you’re bound to come down with a cold at least once. Breastfeeding with a cold brings with it all sorts of questions.
What medications should I take?
Will my baby get sick if I breastfeed while I’m sick?
Should I continue to breastfeed?
This happens to pretty much every breastfeeding mom, so here are some simple answers to those questions.
Continue To Breastfeed
It’s SO important that you continue to breastfeed when you have a cold or if you’re sick. Even if your baby hasn’t come down with the sickness, they are already getting the beneficial antibodies in your breast milk.
Your breast milk is amazing stuff. It actually changes based on what you and your baby are exposed to in your environment. So, if you get sick, your breast milk has SPECIFIC antibodies to fight off that sickness! If you stop breastfeeding now, you’re actually putting your baby at more risk.
Your breast milk won’t transfer the sickness, but it WILL transfer the antibodies your baby needs to fight the sickness. So keep giving them that miracle milk!
There are a few exceptions to this, the most common one being HIV. However, HIV is a serious consideration and very different from the common cold. If you have the common cold, a stomach bug, or food poisoning, keep on breastfeeding your baby.
Sometimes if you have a cold, your milk supply will drop. This is a result of not eating and drinking well, stress and being tired. The most important thing to do is to keep breastfeeding even if your supply starts to drop. Once you are over your sickness, your milk supply will come back.
Take care of yourself, rest, and drink plenty of fluids. Doing these things will help you recover from your cold faster as well as keep your milk supply adequate.
If Your Baby Gets Sick
Your breast milk will start to make antibodies for your baby even if you don’t get sick. If your baby comes down with a cold, when they breastfeed they transfer the cold germs to your breasts. Your breasts actually respond to your baby and those germs and create antibodies to help your baby fight off the cold.
It’s so important to breastfeed with a cold… if your baby is the one with the cold! In addition to immunity benefits, breast milk offers fluids and nutrition that your baby might not otherwise get. It also gives your baby comfort during a stressful time and can give your baby pain relief!
Did you know that it’s easier for a sick baby to breastfeed that taking a bottle? This is especially true if your baby is accustomed to breastfeeding. Know that you’re making the best decision to continue breastfeeding if your baby has a cold.
Steps To Take If Breastfeeding With A Cold
If you or your baby has a cold, keep breastfeeding. Other than that, there are some things you can do until the sickness is gone.
- Wash your hands often. Hand washing is the most important way to prevent the cold from spreading. If either you or your baby is sick, be sure to wash your hands frequently. Washing your hands with soap and water frequently may prevent you from passing the sickness to each other.
- Avoid coughing or sneezing on your baby. If you want to, you can always wear a mask during the time you breastfeed. If you’re afraid of coughing or sneezing on your baby during a feeding, wearing a mask can keep the germs from passing to your baby.
- Don’t kiss your baby on the face or hands. If you or your baby are sick, it’s wise to not kiss them on the face or hands. Again, this can reduce the spread of germs and prevent you from passing it to each other.
- Keep your baby upright. If your baby is sick from a stuffy nose, breastfeeding them upright might help them breathe better by opening up their airways.
- Feed your baby in a steamy bathroom and use a humidifier. When your baby is sick, stuffiness can make feedings difficult. Try feeding them in a steamy bathroom, and use a humidifier in your house to help keep their airways moist.
- Use a bulb syringe before feeding. It may also help to clear out your baby’s nose with a bulb syringe before feeding. I’ve also seen products that allow you to suck the mucus out of your baby’s nose. Whatever product you use, try clearing their nose of some music before you try to breastfeed.
Safe Cold Medicine While Breastfeeding
Cold medications should be discussed with your doctor.
Generally, Tylenol and Ibuprofen are safe for a breastfeeding mother to take. If you are wondering about other cold medications for yourself or your baby, speak to your doctor.
Some medications are unsafe to take while breastfeeding because they’re transferred to your baby through your breast milk. If your baby needs medication, your doctor will have to write a prescription for the appropriate dose. Be sure to consult your physician if you plan on taking medications while breastfeeding with a cold.
Breastfeeding With the Stomach Flu
Breastfeeding with the stomach flu is a whole different beast. It not only involves feeling horrible, but also frequent trips to the bathroom.
Nonetheless, it’s still recommended to breastfeed while you have the stomach flu. Your baby will still get the beneficial antibodies through your breast milk.
The biggest concerns with breastfeeding with the stomach flu are not giving it to your baby, and keeping hydrated.
Wash your hands frequently when you have the stomach flu to prevent spreading it to your little one. Every time you use the bathroom, follow by washing your hands. Before breastfeeding, wash your hands every time. This will help prevent spreading it to your baby.
You can also wear a face mask while breastfeeding to prevent giving it to your baby.
And keep hydrated! Breastfeeding takes a lot of fluids, and the stomach flu is likely to dehydrate you. Drink lots of fluids while you are fighting the stomach flu. Pediasure is a great option for replenishing your fluids.
Breastfeeding With Food Poisoning
Food poisoning is similar to the stomach flu, but not caused by a virus. Generally food poisoning isn’t contagious, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between food poisoning and the flu.
To be safe, follow the same steps as if you are contagious. Wash your hands frequently and wear a mask while breastfeeding.
Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. You need fluids to recover and to make breast milk. Popsicles, kool-aid, water, ice cubes, anything you can get down will help keep you hydrated enough to recover and make breast milk.
Breastfeeding With the Coronavirus
Breastfeeding can help improve a baby’s immunity and give them antibodies against the virus. Mothers should not be separated from their babies unless they choose to. If they do, it’s still recommended to breast pump so the baby still gets their mother’s breast milk.
Colds or Sickness and Breast Milk Supply
When you have a cold or sickness, your breast milk supply could be affected.
It’s not usually due to the cold itself, rather things that result from the cold. For example, stress and not eating or drinking enough can cause your breast milk to drop.
But the most important factor for breast milk supply is demand. Make sure you are feeding your baby frequently, and don’t cut them off before they’re finished.
A cold can make breastfeeding difficult. You want to sleep and need rest to recover. Taking time to rest might push your feedings farther apart, or maybe you cut off a feeding early to blow your nose. That’s okay, but make sure you come back and finish!
Your body will produce the amount of breast milk that your baby is telling your body they need. So keep feedings as frequent and as long as they were before you got sick.
And a note about decongestants… they can drastically affect milk supply. Decongestants work to dry up your mucous membranes in your nose. They do the same thing to your breast milk! So it’s best to avoid using decongestants all together while you’re breastfeeding.
Common Questions About Breastfeeding While Sick
Should I pump and dump when sick?
No! Sickness can’t be transmitted through breast milk. Unless you have a communicable disease like HIV, you should continue to breastfeed. Your body will produce antibodies to any sickness you are exposed to and give them to your baby.
Does breastfeeding weaken your immune system?
There’s no research that shows breastfeeding weakens your immune system. However, lack of sleep can. Often breastfeeding moms are up frequently in the night, which might impact their immune system.
The good news is that it is only temporary! Many babies start sleeping in longer stretches after the first 6 weeks and by 6 months most babies sleep through the night.
And what about your baby’s immune system?
This study showed that breastfeeding alters your baby’s immune system, in a positive way! Breast milk provides protection against infections and sickness that a mother is exposed to.
Can a baby catch a cold from breastfeeding?
Your baby can’t catch a cold from your breast milk, but they could catch a cold from you. If you’re breastfeeding make sure to wash your hands and cover your cough. Wearing a mask could also help your baby from getting sick.
Breastfeeding With a Cold: Conclusion
There you have it! If you have a cold, the best thing to do is keep breastfeeding. Don’t be afraid to go to the doctor if you need to and in the meantime, rest up, take care of yourself, and get better!
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.
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