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. However, while nursing will not transmit common diseases, it is possible that close body contact with your child could spread your illness. In this way, it is beneficial to use caution during extreme illness, though some of the antibodies in your breastmilk might help protect your child from becoming infected.
Why Breastfeed Even if You Have Cold or Fever?
In the majority of cases, it is perfectly acceptable to breastfeed your child when you have a cold, fever or some other infection.
The following are some of the reasons why breastfeeding is acceptable even when you are sick:
1. To Prevent Early Weaning
If you stop breastfeeding because of illness, this can lead to your baby being less likely to accept breastfeeding in the future, as they become more accustomed to its absence. While this is not a sure thing to happen, there is the potential, and early weaning can be bad for some children, especially during the first year.
2. Improved Immunity
Breastmilk provides antibodies that help your child develop a stronger immunity to common infections. Because of the antibodies and the fact that you normally develop infections days before symptoms appear – there is a low risk for your child developing signs of infection as transmitted from the mother, and if they do it is often very mild.
3. Decreased Risk of Mastitis
Mastitis happens when a lack of breastfeeding causes a build-up of milk in the breasts, which can lead to inflammation and even infection. Continuing to breastfeed during illness reduces the risk of this happening, and will ensure that you have adequate supplies for your child.
4. Providing Comfort
Evidence shows that for both child and mother, breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which can lead to increased levels of happiness and comfort, as well as less stress. Breastfeeding can also reduce depression for mothers and children, and in general continuing contact during illness will be good for the physical and emotional health of your child.
5. Source of Hydration
Breastfeeding is very important to keep your baby hydrated, and if they have mild illness, hydration can become very important. When sick, mothers should take great care to drink as many fluids as possible to stay hydrated, so that they can keep their child hydrated as well.
6. 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.
7. More Digestible Nutrients
Breastfeeding provides easily digestible nutrients for the baby than those found in other foods or milk. Breastfeeding also provides for more easy absorption of those nutrients, which an absence of breastfeeding would prevent.
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. These include diseases like HIV, septicaemia, and HLTV-1. These are all diseases which can be directly transmitted to a child via their mother’s breastmilk.
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).
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.
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 a salt water or apple-cider vinegar and 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).
- Echinacea, such as through 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.
- Take hot baths, and in general, attempt to remain as clean as possible.
- 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.
The following are some additional precautionary tips to take when you are sick to prevent transmitting a 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 your germs to be transmitted to your child.
- Restrict face-to-face contact, as this is the easiest way in which infection can get transmitted. Avoid coughing or sneezing when in close proximity to your child.
- 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.
- Keep a humidifier in the room where you and your child are sleeping at night. This will help with the risk of spreading germs.
- Also wearing an air 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. The risk to your child when you are sick mainly comes from the close contact between you and your child, rather than the breastfeeding itself. 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.