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Can Sick Moms Breastfeed?

By Vicki Herrman, M.D.

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​​​​Breastfeeding is not just a way to provide nutrition to your baby; it also provides protection from diseases. It seems counterintuitive, but continuing to breastfeed while you are sick actually helps your baby avoid contracting the disease you have.​

Why Moms Should Breastfeed when they're Sick

In most cases, by the time moms show symptoms of an illness, their baby has already been exposed. However, breastfeeding moms haven't only been unknowingly passing on germs, but also protection against those germs!

When we begin to get sick, our body increases production of antibodies – blood proteins that combat and eliminate the germs that are making us sick. When breastfeeding, these antibodies also go into a mother's milk, and they are transferred to the breastfed baby when he or she eats. These milk-transferred antibodies are often sufficient in keeping their baby healthy.

Breastfeeding while Sick

Breastfeeding requires extra nourishment and energy, so when you are sick while breastfeeding, it is very important to increase your fluid intake. Staying hydrated is important for your health and your milk supply.

Sometimes medication may be necessary to help moms recover from illness or maintain good health. Though most medications are compatible with breastfeeding, check with your doctor before starting a new medication – even if it is just over-the-counter, as certain types of medicine can have side effects for breastfeeding babies.

Though your breastmilk will not transfer viruses and bacterial infections, your baby can still contract them from outside sources. Protect your baby from germs by:

  • Washing hands frequently, especially before touching your baby.
  • Avoiding coughing or sneezing on your baby.
  • Keeping your distance if you have a disease that can be transmitted through air particles. Boys Town Pediatrics suggests wearing a mask or pumping your breastmilk to have an uninfected individual feed your baby.
  • Getting vaccinated. Vaccines decrease risk of contracting preventable diseases like influenza. All vaccines, except the smallpox vaccine, have been deemed healthy to receive while breastfeeding.

When Sick Moms Should Not Breastfeed

Though it is fine to breastfeed in most situations, there are times when moms may be encouraged to either temporarily or permanently wean their baby. Potential reasons include:

  • Active and untreated tuberculosis
  • Human t-cell lymphotropic virus I or II
  • HIV, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control
  • Mother is too weak, tired or malnourished to breastfeed

If you are unable to breastfeed, your baby can drink formula or donated breastmilk. ​

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