Have you ever had questions about breastfeeding when illness strikes your household? Ever wondered if you can breastfeed when you are sick? What abo ut if your baby is sick and struggling to feed?
The good news: breastmilk is a powerhouse for supporting your baby’s immune system! Breastmilk contains large quantities of a specific type of antibody called IgA which coats the digestive tract and prevents viruses and bacteria from entering the bloodstream through the wall of the digestive system.
A nursing parent makes antibodies that are unique to the pathogens they encounter in their environment. This means that a breastfeeding baby receives antibodies that are specifically targeted to pathogens they have likely been exposed to. Breastmilk also contains the proteins lactoferrin and interleukin which help moderate inflammatory responses, and breastmilk even contains prebiotics and probiotics that support a healthy gut microbiome.
So can you breastfeed if you’re sick? In nearly all cases, yes! With MOST illnesses, including common colds, the flu, and COVID, it is recommended to continue breastfeeding. These viruses are not transmitted through breastmilk, but antibodies to the illness ARE! Your baby will have already been exposed to the illness by being around you (probably before you even knew you were sick) but through breastfeeding, the baby will receive some protection. I’ve even heard of families where everyone in the house got sick, except the baby, because they had additional protection from breastmilk.
💊 If you do become sick, remember to check that any medications you take are compatible with breastfeeding. Some decongestants, such as Sudafed, are known to suppress milk supply. The Infant Risk Center has some helpful resources for checking whether a medication is safe to take while breastfeeding:
The MommyMeds App: a searchable database of over-the-counter and prescription medications and their safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The app is available for a small annual fee.
Infant Risk Center Flyer listing breastfeeding compatibility of some frequently used medications.
What about when baby is sick?
Breastmilk is the best nutrition for baby when they are sick, providing essential nutrients and all those wonderful antibodies. A 2020 study even found that babies who were fed breastmilk had a reduction in the severity of RSV. See the study here. Unfortunately, nursing is often difficult when the baby is congested. Taking steps to reduce congestion can help.
Try nursing in an upright position
Use a humidifier or take the baby into a steamy bathroom
Use nasal saline drops and a suction device such as a bulb suction or NoseFrida. Use caution with these devices because overuse can lead to swelling in the nose, making the situation worse. Here’s a helpful article about using suction devices from parents magazine https://www.parents.com/baby/health/ways-to-make-sure-you-are-using-your-nosefrida-correctly
I hope this information has been helpful! Stay healthy out there, friends!