Breastfeeding During Illness

mother breastfeeding her newbornYou’re sick. You wonder if you should temporarily stop breastfeeding until you feel better.  Should you continue to provide your expressed milk, or should you wait until you’re well?

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th edition) clearly states: “There are very few illnesses that require any kind of mother/baby or baby/milk separation…Bottom line: with very few exceptions, keep nursing!” (p.383)

In fact, you can even help boost your baby’s immunities to illness by not interrupting the breastfeeding relationship. And vice versa. When you stop breastfeeding, your baby does not receive those important immunities that you provide.

“Your baby not only lives on your milk, [your baby] shares your immune system. By the time you know you’re sick, you’ve started passing not only the illness but your immunities on to your baby. To stop nursing now would be to deprive [your baby] of the best of your immune system when [your baby] needs it most. The reverse is truly remarkable. If your baby picks up an illness that you haven’t been exposed to, [your baby] passes those germs to you through nursing, and within the breast itself you begin making antibodies and passing them back.” (p. 382) It is a remarkable and special connection that you two develop during the illness!

If continuing to nurse through “typical” illnesses such as a cold, stomach bug, or influenza is safe to do and even encouraged, does that mean it’s also safe to take medication – either over the counter (OTC) or prescription?

The majority of medications are compatible with breastfeeding. The La Leche League USA website says on its Medications and Breastfeeding page: “According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ‘Only a few medications are contraindicated (not recommended) while breastfeeding. Although many medications do pass into breast milk, most have little or no effect on milk supply or on an infant’s well-being.’ It is important to share that you are nursing with your healthcare provider.”

La Leche League Leaders are able to offer information about medications and breastfeeding (see Resources), but Leaders aren’t medical professionals and can’t offer medical advice. Please discuss specific concerns with your health care provider.

Each person’s situation is unique. In general, though, breastfeeding through illness is safe and continues to benefit both the nursing parent and the nursling.


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