Hepatitis and Breastfeeding

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Hepatitis and Breastfeeding

When you embrace motherhood and start breastfeeding your baby, you realise that these moments spent with your child will always be special to you. Breastfeeding a baby ensures his good health and also bonds the two of you. But if you are suffering from a transmittable disease like hepatitis, it can be heart-breaking as you cannot be sure if you can breastfeed your child or not.

What Is Hepatitis?

When a virus causes an inflammation of the liver, it is known as hepatitis. There are five types of hepatitis – Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. A few of its types can be caused as a result of some medication, toxins, drugs and alcohol, whereas ‘autoimmune hepatitis’ occurs when the body produces antibodies against its own liver tissue. Hepatitis A is an acute and short-term disease, Hepatitis B, C, and D can become chronic. However, hepatitis E is usually acute.

Common Symptoms of Hepatitis

Chronic and infectious forms of hepatitis do not show any symptoms in the beginning, and they only show once the liver has already been damaged. For acute hepatitis, symptoms appear very quickly. The symptoms are as follows:

  • Fatigue
  • Flu symptoms
  • Pale stool
  • Dark urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellow skin and eyes; symptoms related to jaundice

Can You Breastfeed with Hepatitis?

Though it has been concluded that it is safe to breastfeed your child if you have hepatitis, it is always safe to take certain precautions to prevent it from affecting your child. The ‘American Academy of Paediatrics’ considers breastfeeding good for the development and the good health of their newborn children. But one should first determine the type of hepatitis they have and how it gets transmitted. You should always speak to your doctor if you have hepatitis, before breastfeeding your baby.

A woman breastfeeding

How Do Different Hepatitis Infections Affect Breastfed Babies?

It is based on the severity of your case and the type of hepatitis you are suffering from that will decide whether or not you can breastfeed your child safely. Here are some of the ways in which different hepatitis infections can affect breastfed babies:

1. Hepatitis A

Here we look at HAV and how it fares with breastfeeding.

  • What Is It?

This virus is commonly known as HAV and is mostly spread through the faecal-oral way. This means that consuming contaminated food or water or indulging in oral or anal sex can lead to contracting the disease. Any other way through which the faecal matter passes from one person to another is also responsible for transmitting the disease.

  • Risks To Baby

Babies or kids under the age of six years, usually do not show any symptoms of Hepatitis A, so it is hard to tell if they have this disease or not. However, if they do, the disease can still pass on to those who are not vaccinated, especially their parents or caregivers.

2. Hepatitis B

Here we look at the relationship between hepatitis B positive mother and breastfeeding.

  • What Is It?

Hepatitis B is transmitted through contaminated blood. The virus carrying hepatitis B can be present in other body fluids, but it becomes infectious when there are high levels of virus in the blood, saliva or semen. It is spread through needle sharing and sexual intercourse with someone who is infected.

  • Risks To Baby

Hepatitis B can be very serious and life-threatening in babies. Newborn babies who get infected have a 90% chance of becoming carriers of the disease and passing it onto others. Once they reach adulthood, they carry a higher risk of developing liver cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, eventually leading to death.
If you have this condition and want to breastfeed your child, make sure that you do not have cracked and bleeding nipples as this will cause your child to be infected.

3. Hepatitis C

Here we look at Hepatitis C and breastfeeding. Let’s find out if you can breastfeed if you are hepatitis C positive.

  • What Is It?

Like HBV, HCV can be transmitted through blood. It is very rare for it to be passed through sexual contact as it is not present in the semen or vaginal fluids. The main route of transfer is through injecting drugs, especially when the needles are shared.

  • Risks To Baby

Children do not show the symptoms of HCV and about 40% of children outgrow the disease by the age of two. Some may take longer, but the disease will not affect their growth or development. However, their liver will need to be monitored as they grow. Babies that are bottle-fed too have the same rate of infection as those who are breastfed, so if you want to breastfeed your child, consult your doctor.

A doctor doing a hepatitis test on a woman

4. Hepatitis D

Here the relationship between Hepatitis D and breastfeeding is explained.

  • What Is It?

HDV is a type of Hepatitis that is transferable only when HBV is present, and it happens in the same way that the HBV is transmitted from one person to another.

  • Risks To Baby

The symptoms of hepatitis D are similar to the symptoms of hepatitis B, only its presence makes them worse, putting your child at a higher risk for liver damage. Mothers who have HDV can breastfeed their children, keeping in mind the precautions that need to be taken in case of cracked nipples. It is important that the baby is given the HBV shot at birth.

5. Hepatitis E

This is the type of hepatitis that can become quite deadly in pregnant women.

  • What Is It?

Prevalent in parts of Africa, Asia and Central America, its virus is transferred through oral-faecal routes, similar to HAV. Pregnant women who have HEV can develop acute liver failure and should be especially careful.

  • Risks To Baby

About 15% – 50% of infants born to mothers with HEV in India have died within the first week of birth as there is an extremely high risk of transferring the disease to the baby if proper care is not taken.
Mothers with HEV are generally considered safe to breastfeed their children. However, if they have a higher viral load, there is a chance their breast milk will be infected. In such cases, mothers should opt for bottle feeding formula milk to their babies.

Points to Remember for Hepatitis Positive Moms while Feeding Infants

Here are some points that you need to keep in mind when it comes to dealing with Hepatitis and nursing your newborn:

  • If you are suffering from cracked nipples, talk to your doctor about a safe nipple cream that you can use soothe your pain. You can ask about using Aloe Vera gel as it is extremely moisturizing and does not have any chemicals in it.
  • Find out what tests can be done in order to help diagnose a hepatitis infection.
  • Always maintain hygiene as it can help curb the spread of the infection.
  • Be careful in public washrooms and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.

The advantages of breastfeeding surpass the risks involved in a mother who has a Hepatitis infection. For the most part, mothers are free to, and even encouraged to breastfeed their baby. Always ensure to keep up with all your doctor’s appointments, whether they be yours, or your little ones. This will ensure maximum safety as you will always be aware of the virus present and will be able to take whatever precautions are necessary under the guidance of your doctor.

Also Read: Hives While Breastfeeding

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