Nursing a Sick Child

Nursing a Sick Child
Along with the science-based benefits of breastfeeding, there are numerous emotional benefits for mother and baby. One of these is being able to nurse your child when they are sick. I remember the first time my daughter was sick after she weaned at 18 months – it was awful! I'd gotten so dependent on breastfeeding as a cure-all and comfort that I didn't even know what to do. My goal for my second baby is to nurse her at least through the entire cold and flu season past her second birthday.

Here's some things to know about nursing your sick baby or toddler:

Sick babies need mother's milk, and lots of it – When you baby is sick, hunker down for the duration, because it is completely normal for your baby to want to latch on and not let go! Unless they have a vomiting illness, in which case you may want to limit the volume of milk consumed at a time, there is no reason not to let them do this. Much of the time, they may not be getting a lot of milk anyway, but the nursing for comfort is essential. Plus, if you also have, or get a touch of the baby's illness, your body will produce antibodies which will be transferred to the baby through your milk! (See the article, "Breastfeeding through Illness or Injury," in related links below.)

In the case of a vomiting or diarrhea illness – Breastmilk *does* count as a "clear liquid." It is *not* necessary to stop breastfeeding and feed water, broth or electrolyte drink. Unlike formula, breastmilk is perfectly digestible (the only downside compared to water would be the slightly more messy nature of the possible vomit!). Pediatricians often do not know that breastmilk is acceptable as a clear liquid – you may need to educate them on this point.

However, you may need to limit the volume or duration of breastfeeding sessions in order to reduce the vomiting. It can be a little bit of a trick to figure out just how much you can let them drink at a time once you feel or hear the milk let down and have them retain it. They get pretty angry when you take them off, but a little bit at a time will keep them hydrated and give them just what they need. Also, after a vomiting experience, you may want to wait 30-45 minutes to allow their stomach and esophageal muscles to relax again before. If it is hard for you tolerate waiting, or it is hard for your baby to see you without nursing, you may want to hand him or her over to another comforting caregiver and leave the room temporarily.

About Cold Medications -- Despite some warnings about using decongestants with children under two, many prominent pediatricians agree that there are times when using decongestants or expectorants may be necessary and appropriate. Occasionally medication may be necessary to reduce congestion enough to allow the baby to nurse and stay hydrated. Cough suppressants are generally not recommended with the exception of a child whose sleep is so interupted by coughing that they are not getting any rest. Be sure to confer with your pediatrician regarding appropriate dosing and advisability in your particular situation. And be sure to tell your doctor whether you are using a children's or infant/toddler formulation, because infant drops are more concentrated and can cause overdose if a children's formulation dose is given.

Breastmilk can be used in lots of different ways other than orally -- Using breastmilk in the eyes for conjunctivitis, in the ears for early ear infection, in the nose to resist sinus infection or throat relief from post nasal drip are just a few used. Also use breastmilk topically on skin lesions or injuries. Use reasonable cleanliness measures like washing hands before pumping or hand-expressing milk and use sterile bottles or eyedroppers for storage and application. And while I encourage natural treatments, be sure to be consulting your doctor about when it might be time for your child to be examined for an infection that may be beyond home remedies. (For more information, see the article on "Medicinal Uses of Breast Milk," in related links below.)

Breastfeeding and breastmilk can be absolutely invaluable during childhood illness. Keep in mind that breastmilk reduces the overall incidence and severity of many illnesses in the first place by increasing health and transferring immunity from mother to child. But when illness does strike, breastfeeding can provide unmatched comfort and health benefits. Get well soon!

These aren't specifically nursing-related, but I wanted to share the two things I can't live without when my daughters get fevers:
1) Temporal artery thermometer - You still need to have a rectal thermometer around if things get dicey, but I've found this to be quite accurate and easy to use, even when they are sleeping.
2) Be Koool Strips – These non-medicinal gel strips help disperse high fevers. I don't understand all the science, but they do help bring a high fever down fast and ease the headache of high temps (adult sheets are a better deal in my opinion, because they cost roughly the same, but can be cut in halves or even quarters for small children).

Disclaimer: All material on the Breastfeeding website is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Although every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information as of the date of publication, the author is neither a medical doctor, health practitioner, nor a Certified Lactation Consultant. If you are concerned about your health, or that of your child, consult with your health care provider regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation. Information obtained from the Internet can never take the place of a personal consultation with a licensed health care provider, and neither the author nor assume any legal responsibility to update the information contained on this site or for any inaccurate or incorrect information contained on this site, and do not accept any responsibility for any decisions you may make as a result of the information contained on this site or in any referenced or linked materials written by others.

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You Should Also Read:
Medicinal Uses of Breast Milk
Dehydration and Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding through Illness or Injury

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