Breastfeeding a Baby With Fever or Cold

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Dr. Deepinder Kaur (Obstetrician and Gynaecologist)
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Breastfeeding When You Have a Cold

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Many mothers often have questions or concerns with regards to sickness/illness and breastfeeding. Understandably, it can be a source of great anxiety and lead to many questions about the best path forward for your health and your child’s health. The following article will attempt to address some of those questions and concerns, provide more specific guidance on the situations in which it is acceptable to breastfeed and enlist precautions to be taken to minimize the risks of infection to your baby from contact.

Is It Safe to Breastfeed With Cold or Fever?

In general, yes – it is safe to breastfeed your children even if you have common illnesses such as a sore throat, cough, cold, fever, and the like. A mother produces antibodies to protect her child even when someone sneezes around. Also by the time the mother has contracted any contagious disease, chances are that the baby is already exposed to it.

Why Breastfeed Even if You Have Cold or Fever?

You can keep breastfeeding your baby, even if you take antiviral medicines for flu-like symptoms. A mother’s breastmilk is custom-made for her baby, providing antibodies that babies need to fight infection. So, continuing to breastfeed can protect your baby from the infection that your body is fighting. In case you have a cold, fever, or even COVID it is not recommended to stop breastfeeding.

The following are the reasons why breastfeeding is important for your baby even if you are sick :

1. To Prevent Early Weaning

Stopping breastfeeding suddenly could put you at risk of engorgement, blocked ducts, or mastitis, as well as being an abrupt change for your baby’s digestive and immune systems to cope with. Babies who start solids as early as this have higher rates of iron deficiency anemia, a higher risk of infections, and weight problems.

2. Improved Immunity

A mother’s milk contains antibodies and other immunological factors that can help protect her infant from flu and is the recommended source of nutrition for the infant, even while the mother is ill. If a mother is too sick to feed her infant at the breast and another healthy caregiver is caring for the infant, the breastfeeding mother should be encouraged and supported to regularly express her milk so that the infant continues to receive her breast milk.

3. Providing Comfort

Breastfeeding turns out to be an impressive form of comfort. A study showed that breastfeeding was more effective than any other intervention in reducing a baby’s pain after a heel prick, as measured by several factors including the amount of crying and the baby’s heart rate. Babies go to the breast for many reasons – if they are hungry or thirsty, they are tired, scared, or hurt, or sometimes if they are feeling overwhelmed. So you should not stop feeding during any illness.

4. Source of Complete Nourishment

Breastmilk contains all of the essential nutrients, antibodies, and other factors important for growth and development. So it’s important to continue breastfeeding in any case.

5. Keeping Breastmilk Supplies Normal

Discontinuing breastfeeding during illness or infection can reduce the supply of breastmilk overall. This can be challenging for your baby, as you will have to recover from having low supplies of the milk and perhaps have to substitute formula milk.

Mother breastfeeding her baby

When to Avoid Breastfeeding

While it is commonly recommended to continue breastfeeding even when you are sick, there are some situations in which it would be against the recommendation of most doctors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mothers should avoid breastfeeding or giving their infant expressed breast milk if

  1. The baby is diagnosed with classic galactosemia which is a rare genetic metabolic disorder.
  2. The mother is infected with human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II.
  3. The mother has either suspected or confirmed Ebola virus disease.
  4. The mother is using illegal drugs.

Even in cases of food poisoning, it is important that breastfeeding should continue. Generally, as long as the symptoms are confined to the gastrointestinal tract (like vomiting or diarrhoea) there is no risk of spreading an infection to your child. If the food poisoning progresses to septicaemia, the bacteria have usually passed into the bloodstream by then and breastfeeding should be avoided. However, this is very rare. Follow up with your doctor if you are worried about the risk that food poisoning might pose to your child.

Is Taking Medicines Safe During Breastfeeding?

Sometimes it is safe to take medicines while breastfeeding – such as paracetamol and ibuprofen – though you should consult your doctor as this varies in accordance with the medication. In general, though, you should avoid most over-the-counter medications and use caution when taking antibiotics (ask your doctor for specific guidance if you have been prescribed an antibiotic). When taking antibiotics prescribed by the doctor, always take probiotics.

Most illnesses will subside within a few days without medication, so you should try to avoid medication if at all possible. If you do take medication, first make sure that it is safe for you to take, but then also check if it is a short-acting drug (less than six hours in effect) or a long-lasting drug. In general, for mothers who are breastfeeding and nursing, short-acting drugs are generally much more effective and have fewer side effects.

Are There Any Side-Effects of Medicines on Your Baby?

Some medicines can have side effects on your baby, both when given to them directly and when transferred to your baby via the mother’s breastmilk. These side-effects will vary depending on the medication and how your child receives a dose of that medication. You should consult your doctor before taking any medications which you think could pose harm to your child. Also, some medications like cough syrup can reduce supply. So avoid taking OTC medication.

Should You Inform Your Doctor That You Are Breastfeeding?

Yes, you should inform your doctor if you are breastfeeding. While breastfeeding is generally safe when you are sick, some of the medications prescribed to your doctor can be very harmful to your child when transferred through breastmilk. Always make sure that your nursing and breastfeeding are a part of the conversation when it comes to the treatment of your illness.

Home Remedies for Breastfeeding Moms With Cold or Fever

Some commonly used home remedies for breastfeeding moms with cold or fever include:

  • Using saltwater or apple cider vinegar and a water gargle can help relieve a sore throat and cough.
  • Use zinc gluconate lozenges, though not in excessive quantities, as they can interfere with the absorption or use of other minerals in the body.
  • Make sure you get a lot of rest.
  • Avoid long-acting drugs and use short-acting drugs instead.
  • Try using a nasal spray to reduce nasal congestion.
  • Garlic eaten raw, cooked, or as a supplement can help (though raw is best, where possible). Take care as for a mother who has an oversupply of breast milk, garlic can create more problems.
  • Echinacea tea is often an effective supplement for mothers, as it is safe for nursing. Black tea or hot lemonade can also be quite beneficial and are not considered to have any side effects.
  • Some mothers can try slippery elm bark to help relieve symptoms of a sore throat and cough.
  • Try drinking fenugreek tea, which can help relieve some of the symptoms of chest congestion and cough. In case of oversupply, it is going to create more problems, so take care.
  • Take hot baths, and in general, maintain good hygiene.
  • Sprinkling cayenne pepper on your food, or putting a small amount (less than a teaspoon) in your water or drink, can reduce head congestion.
  • Placing a drop of essential oils, like eucalyptus or peppermint oil, on a cotton ball or tissue and putting it near the nose can help with deep breathing.
  • Extra vitamin C – whether through foods, supplements, or juices – is very good for the body when nursing.
  • Ensure that you are drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated.

Precautionary Tips

The following are some additional precautionary tips to take when you are sick to prevent transmitting the disease to your child:

  • Do not put your baby’s pacifier or spoon in your mouth before offering it to your child. This can cause germs to be transmitted to your child.
  • Restrict face-to-face contact, as this is the easiest way in which infection can get transmitted.
  • Always cover your nose or use a tissue when coughing or sneezing, regardless of where you are. These germs are easily transmitted to children.
  • Make sure to drink plenty of fluids while you are sick to stay hydrated and maintain a good supply of breastmilk. This will also help to keep your child hydrated via your breastmilk.
  • Wash your hands as often as possible, and always do so before you breastfeed your child. It is good to use soap and hot water, and in some cases, a sanitizer is good as well.
  • Try to maintain a safe distance from your child when at all possible. If you do, use protective clothing to mitigate skin-to-skin contact, and wash your hands.
  • Make use of your breast pump if possible, though is not a requirement. It is simply necessary to avoid close contact and the spreading of germs as much as possible.
  • Dry air can cause scratchy throats, congestion, and nosebleeds. While there are no scientific guidelines about the use of humidifiers to prevent flu, the germs may be able to survive in dried air conditions. So the thought is that, if you keep the humidity level up in a room, the virus is less likely to survive. Just be careful of warm mist humidifiers because, if not cleaned properly, they can grow bacteria and mold, which can cause serious illness.
  • Also wearing a mask when you are near your child, such as during breastfeeding. This will also help to lower the spread of germs.

While it seems like breastfeeding with fever, cold or related illnesses would be a cause of great concern, this is not the case. In most cases, the baby has already got the infection by the time the mother has got it. There are many reasons to continue breastfeeding even when you are sick, as the lack of continued breastfeeding could be bad for both mother and child, especially during the first year of the baby’s life. You should take certain precautions when sick to ensure your baby does not become sick from you – and even use certain home remedies – but there is certainly no risk from breastfeeding with common illnesses. Certain medications should be avoided, and if you have additional questions or concerns, you should follow up with your doctor.

Also Read: Sore Nipples – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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