Nursing While Sick

Nursing While Sick
Cold and flu season with a young baby can be rough. New mothers, whether breastfeeding or bottlefeeding, working or stay-at-home are notoriously bad about taking care of *themselves* as well as they take care of their babies. That means lack of sleep, as well forgetting to drink water, take vitamins or eat properly.

For a breastfeeding mother, this is especially significant, because our bodies will take care of the baby's needs first. I have always been taught that the body will take what it needs to produce outstanding milk for the baby whether maternal nutrition is optimal or even if it is severely substandard.

Most important to know is that, in most cases, breastfeeding moms can and *should* continue nursing your baby when you are sick. Staying away from your baby would serve very little purpose, as illnesses are already contagious before they show symptoms, and so the baby has already been exposed. However, by breastfeeding, we are immediately passing on the antibodies our bodies are already producing directly through the milk, so baby's cold might be shorter and less severe!

So here's some tips and information for getting through cold and flu season:

First, take care of yourself – It's kind of like on the airplane, when they tell you to adjust your mask first before the child's. If you don't take care of yourself, you'll be down for the count much more often. Remember to drink lots of water – keep some with you at all times. Eat frequent, small, protein-containing meals. And talk to your health care provider about appropriate supplements for your diet and needs – I take extra Vitamin C, Elderberry and Garlic in the winter to boost immunity. Also, reducing sugar intake (watch this during the holidays!) can keep your immune system strong.

If your illness requires medication -- Talk to a doctor that is truly knowledgeable about drugs and breastfeeding. If you are told you must take antibiotics or other drugs that are not compatible with breastfeeding, there are many options to weaning – including finding an alternative drug. The Le Leche League website or a LLL leader (even if not local… just call one that's anywhere, or use the helpline) can help with this research in a pinch, since decisions often need to be made quickly. Be sure to understand not only the recommendations for child safely associated with the drug, but also the effect on milk production. If appropriate and time permitting, consider waiting on meds a few days, or trying natural alternatives to traditional drugs (like swallowing raw garlic as an antibiotic, or using breastmilk drops for an ear infection, both remedies I have used successfully).

Have nursing-friendly cold remedies available – My preference is generally to let illnesses treat themselves. However, if you are like me, a 24-hour cold results in days or even weeks of lingering, miserable congestion! Personally, I take expectorant pretty regularly, because for me it helps avoid a sinus infection or bronchitis, and my research and experience has indicated it is baby-safe and has no effect on my milk production. I do occasionally take a decongestant when I just can't stand it anymore, but this does decrease my milk supply, so I do it judiciously and with extra liquids to help compensate. Whatever you decide, be sure to do your research and carefully note effect (positive and negative) on you, the baby and your milk supply. If you are self-treating (or for prescription meds, too), the ultimate guides to drugs and herbs in breastfeeding in my opinion are Thomas Hale's Medication and Mother's Milk (2006) and Sheila Humphrey's The Nursing Mother's Herbal (2003) (Links to these books on Amazon at are the bottom of this article).

Get some sleep – As hard as it is to get some sleep normally, it is essential when you are sick. If you don't already co-sleep, consider bringing the baby to bed with you – this will maximize your sleep as well as give the baby maximum breastmilk and keep your supply high. Have some support at the ready when possible during cold and flu season to help you with your own illness and to help with other children. If you work, take a sick day or two to kick the illness rather than staying run down for a longer time. If you are a single mom, try to have a backup plan, as some winter flus may make it difficult to even take care of your baby. If you are a stay-at-home mom, try to get your husband or family member to save up some sick days for you. Let someone take care of *you* for a change and do nothing but sleep and breastfeed! The sooner you do this, the faster you'll feel better.

The better care you take of yourself during cold and flu season, the better care you can take of your nursing child. Remember, sleep and nutrition are key to a healthy season. Use medicines or tools for symptom control in a judicious and well-researched way. Wash hands frequently and exercise regularly. Then cross your fingers and think healthy thoughts and do your best to enjoy the winter season.

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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