Should You Breastfeed If You Are Sick?

It’s safe to breastfeed when you’re sick – and even beneficial. Learn why it’s safe to continue breastfeeding when you’re sick, plus tips for breastfeeding when you feel under the weather.

If you start feeling under the weather, can you still breastfeed your little one? In almost all cases, the answer is yes – so that’s one less thing to worry about when your health is less than ideal.  Today, we’ll cover why it’s safe (and even beneficial) to continue breastfeeding when sick, as long as you’re feeling up to it. We’ve also gathered tips for breastfeeding when sick. 

Can I still breastfeed if I am sick?

Yes, it’s perfectly safe to breastfeed when you are sick – and it’s very beneficial for baby. 

Breastmilk always contains antibodies and immune-boosting properties, whether you’re healthy or sick. The antibodies help protect your little one from illnesses you’ve had in the past, meaning breastfed babies may get sick less often. And the immune-boosting properties include white blood cells, stem cells, immune cells, proteins like lactoferrin and interleukin, and enzymes that all help the immune system. These may help your little one avoid (and recover more quickly from) illnesses, infections, and GI issues. 

But the antibodies are especially helpful when you are sick, as breastfeeding can have a unique protective effect. If you currently have an illness like a cold, the flu, or a stomach virus, your body is creating antibodies to that illness – and you’ll pass those antibodies to baby through your breastmilk. When baby nurses, they receive those antibodies, which help keep them from catching the same illness that you have.

Also, rest assured that babies can’t catch colds, the flu, or stomach viruses through your breastmilk. 

If I have COVID-19, is it OK to keep breastfeeding my baby?

If you test positive for COVID-19, the situation’s the same as with any respiratory illness. You should still continue to breastfeed! The COVID-19 virus is not passed to your baby through breastmilk, so your milk will not make your baby sick. And although more research is needed on this, early studies indicate that the antibodies you pass to your baby while breastfeeding – and the immune-boosting properties breastmilk has at any time – may help keep them from getting sick with COVID-19! 

That said, it’s still important to take precautions while breastfeeding if you have COVID-19, because you could spread the virus to baby if you talk, cough, or sneeze around them. Wear a mask during nursing sessions, and any time you’re close to baby. And wash your hands regularly. You might also use an air purifier, open window, or other method to ventilate the area, as good ventilation helps reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. 

If you’re pumping, wash your hands well before pumping, and clean all pump parts after a pumping session. It’s also a good idea to keep a mask on while pumping, even though you won’t be around baby at the time. And if they are healthy, consider letting your partner or another caregiver (who is already in the house) bottle-feed baby to minimize the risk of exposing baby to the virus. Have the caregiver wear a mask during the feed.

What if baby gets sick?

If baby gets sick, breastfeeding them may help them recover more quickly, thanks to the antibodies and immune-boosting properties in breastmilk.  And some breastfed babies who have started solids will want to drink more breastmilk when sick, as they won’t feel up to eating other foods or will have trouble keeping other foods down. 

Tips for breastfeeding when sick

  • Good nourishment and lots of fluids are essential when breastfeeding, but even more so if you are sick. Drink even more water than usual, and eat foods rich in vitamin C and zinc (as they help boost your immunity). You might also drink tea or broth, as they’re both hydrating and soothing.
  • Get plenty of rest!
  • Wash your hands before breastfeeding, and before handling bottles and pump parts.
  • Wear a mask when around baby, to reduce their risk of catching your illness from airborne droplets. 
  • If you feel too sick or tired to breastfeed, that’s ok! Consider pumping and having a partner or caregiver feed your expressed breastmilk to baby using a bottle.
  • If you’re too sick to nurse or pump, your milk supply may drop temporarily. But don’t worry. Once you recover and start breastfeeding regularly again, your supply should return to normal.
  • Avoid taking the decongestant called pseudoephedrine (commonly sold under the brand name Sudafed). Although it isn’t harmful to baby, it may decrease your milk supply. 
  • Rest assured that most other decongestants, as well as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, are perfectly safe for baby. You should still talk to your doctor before taking any medication while breastfeeding, though.

Are there any times I can’t breastfeed when I am sick?

Usually, the only time you can’t breastfeed if you’re sick is if you’re taking medicine that isn’t safe for baby. Although many medicines are safe to start or keep taking while breastfeeding, you should still ask your doctor if any medicines you’re taking would interfere with breastfeeding.

There are also some more serious illnesses that can sometimes make it unsafe to breastfeed. The rare but serious illnesses HTLV, ebola, and brucellosis can get passed to your baby through breastmilk.

If you’re undergoing chemotherapy, you also shouldn’t breastfeed because the drugs involved can end up in your breastmilk and can pose a risk to baby. 

And if you are HIV-positive, you can still breastfeed if your doctor says it’s ok. But your doctor may advise you to wait to breastfeed until antiretroviral therapy (ART) takes effect. If you aren’t undergoing antiretroviral therapy, there’s a risk that you could pass the HIV virus through your breastmilk.

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All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  

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