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Birth Song Blog

Breastfeeding When Sick

Breastfeeding When Sick

Bonding with your child and providing them with nutrition make breastfeeding a magical experience. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t feel all that wonderful. When you’re sick and still breastfeeding, you might feel drained and worn out. You might wonder whether it’s safe to keep breastfeeding while sick. The short answer is that – in the vast majority of cases – you absolutely can continue breastfeeding while sick. The long answer tells us a lot about breastfeeding and how you and your baby interact.

How Breastfeeding Effects Immunity

There are a variety of reasons one might worry about breastfeeding while sick. Medications, hydration, and contagions all top that list. Usually, a mother’s primary concern is that the close contact with baby will make him more likely to catch what she has. If I keep breastfeeding while sick, won’t I give baby what I’ve got?

Remember that symptoms are our bodies’ immune response to an illness, not the illness itself. So, in reality, the baby has already been exposed to the illness before you ever notice a symptom. Stopping once you don’t feel well probably won’t change their exposure at all.

Not only is baby exposed to the contagion, though, but also to your antibodies. Your body’s first response to a potential illness intrusion is to produce antibodies that circulate to identify and eliminate it. Those same antibodies cycle through your breastmilk, which means your baby has an advanced defense for anything you are fighting.

This is another incredible way that we give our babies the best when we nurse them for any amount of time.

Breastfeeding While Sick

Contagious illnesses aren’t the only ones a breastfeeding mother might worry about. There are chronic conditions like diabetes and thyroid disease, even cancer. The common denominator is that you simply don’t feel well.

To keep breastfeeding during an illness carries benefits such as transmitting antibodies, forcing yourself to sit still and rest, and having the baby’s needs keep you motivated to take care of your own. No one will tell you it’s easy, however, and proactive self-care is absolutely vital.

If you’re breastfeeding while sick, try to limit other activities and obligations as much as possible. All of the work you need to do to heal has to be emphasized even more so that you can keep producing milk without draining your body.

Keep it simple: 

  • Rest
  • Hydrate
  • Eat nutritious foods

If you can nurse side-lying, nursing while you get plenty of rest should be a priority. You might have even done this already, as a toddler runs up to nurse-while-standing as you lay on the couch. Use plenty of pillows and props if you need to sit up. Sore muscles and achy posture will just make you feel more miserable. Expend less energy holding your little one so that you can direct it toward making milk and getting better.

Hydration is always important, but even more when you are breastfeeding while sick. Keep a bottle of water nearby, or a cup with a bendy straw, so that you can easily drink while laying down or keep it next to you when you’re camped out on the bed. Nourishing herbal teas, like Nursing Nectar, can contribute to your milk supply while keeping you hydrated. If you can’t drink much, have someone freeze the tea into a popsicle.

Finally, as much as you can, choose good nutritious foods to sustain your body while it works overtime for both you and your baby. Bone broth or veggie broth is a universal healing food. For an upset stomach, use Stomach Soother to ease the nausea and get you closer to eating good foods. 

When You Have to Pause Breastfeeding With an Illness

There are times, such as when strong medication has been prescribed or when the illness is severe, that we might still be uncertain about continuing to breastfeed. When illness is more serious, you can work with both your doctor and your pediatrician, as well as a breastfeeding professional, to decide the best options for both you and the baby.

If you do find that it’s best for you and baby to stop nursing, there maybe next-best choices to get you through that period. Donor milk is getting easier to locate through reputable sources, and you may be able to continue with Let There Be Milk and pumping (but not giving baby the milk) through certain medications or periods of time.

If neither of these are feasible and you must wean, thank your body and your baby for the time you had together and continue to foster your bonding and relationship in other ways.

In all other scenarios, remember that the best way to keep your supply up is to keep nursing. So if it isn’t completely contraindicated for your condition, the best course of action is to take care of your body and continue breastfeeding.

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