You may think breastfeeding while sick poses many health concerns for you or your baby. However, breastfeeding your baby while you or your baby is sick is actually the best thing for your baby. Whether you have a common cold, a virus infection, or a bacterial infection…all of these are reasons to keep breastfeeding your baby. Your amazing breastmilk has the ability to protect your baby through special antibodies that may keep your baby from getting sick, or help your baby fight it off quickly.
Viral and bacterial infections don’t typically transfer through your milk, so feeding your baby your breastmilk does not pose a risk if you have a common illness, unless you are taking medications that transfer or you have another underlying condition in which you can’t breastfeed. Most times, your baby has already been exposed to the illness before you even realize you have it! So keep breastfeeding, mama!
Antibodies in Your Breastmilk
Immunoglobins are antibodies found in your breastmilk and are proteins. These proteins are produced by your immune system once you’ve been exposed to something harmful to your body (like a cold). These antibodies help ward off illness, disease, and germs. These antibodies can be found throughout your body and in your bodily fluids- including breastmilk.
Breastfeeding your baby will result in fewer infections of your baby over time as your baby’s immune system is built up through many immune factors in your milk. The main defense in your milk that protects your baby from infection is called the secretory Immunoglobin A (IgA) antibodies. Babies are born with low levels of IgA, so breastmilk gives them a huge boost before they are able to produce their own. According to an article published in PubMed, a breastfed baby is provided with 0.25-0.5 grams per day of secretory IgA antibodies via breastmilk to help develop their immune system.
In addition to being an important part of respiratory development, antibodies help develop a baby’s gastrointestinal tract. The IgA antibodies line your baby’s respiratory and intestinal tracts, preventing germs from invading your baby’s bloodstream or body.
There are other immunoglobins in your breastmilk:
All of these help in protecting and boosting your baby’s immune system. They help fight off illness and disease, as well as allergies, asthma, and eczema. Your breastmilk changes over time and adapts to your baby’s needs, but there will also be immune boosters in your milk for the duration of your breastfeeding journey.
How to Protect Your Baby
According to the World Health Organization, if you suspect you are sick, and you are trying to prevent your baby from getting ill, continue breastfeeding and follow the following protocol. Close contact and breastfeeding your baby helps your baby to continue to thrive.
- Breastfeed safely, with good respiratory hygiene;
- Hold your newborn skin-to-skin, and
- Share a room with your baby
You should wash your hands before and after touching your baby and keep all surfaces clean.
Herbs to Boost Your Immune System When Breastfeeding While Sick
If you begin to come down with a cold, or another common illness, you can begin taking herbs and continue eating healthy foods to boost your immune system. Treat only the symptoms you have, such as nasal congestion or a cough. According to KellyMom, common herbs and vitamins that are generally safe while breastfeeding include:
- Vitamin C
- Homeopathic remedies
- Chamomile tea
Always keep an eye on your breastmilk supply to ensure your supply didn’t drop from an herb or cold medicine you may be taking. Keep an eye on your baby’s diaper output and weight gain if you’re exclusively breastfeeding at the breast.
How to Still Provide Breastmilk When You Can’t Nurse
Although breastfeeding while sick may seem overwhelming if you don’t feel like yourself, it will truly protect your baby. If you are not able to feed your baby at the breast, you can express milk with a manual or electric pump and have your partner or family member feed your baby. Be sure you thoroughly clean all your pump parts and bottles thoroughly with warm soapy water to help avoid the spread of germs.
In addition to providing antibodies from your milk, breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for your baby as well as comforts your baby when they’re not feeling well.
Nourishment when Breastfeeding While Sick
You may not feel hungry when you’re sick, and your body has the ability to tell you when you shouldn’t be eating. This is your body’s way of detoxing and getting rid of the bad virus or bacterial cells in your body. However, when you do eat, it’s important to avoid processed foods and sugar especially as antigens feed on those foods. Nourish your body with real, whole foods and lots of warm bone broth, fruits, and vegetables. All of these contain key nutrients and minerals that your body needs to heal. Be sure to check out my post here on a Breastfeeding Meal Plan.
And of course, get lots of rest during this time. Sleep helps your body heal, restore, and rejuvenate.
Tips for Breastfeeding While Sick
- Gets lots of rest to allow your body to heal. Ask your partner or family member to watch your baby a little extra when you’re not breastfeeding.
- Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
- Drink warm bone broth to loosen up chest congestion.
- Drink chamomile or fenugreek tea with honey to help loosen up congestion.
- Take a Vitamin C supplement or eat/drink more foods with it.
- Take an echinacea supplement.
- Eat lots of raw garlic, or take a garlic supplement.
- Use a saline nasal spray to clear up nasal congestion.
- Use a humidifier to help you breathe easier.
If you have a common cold or other common illness, there are remedies that will help you feel better in time. The most important is to snuggle your baby and keep breastfeeding while the illness runs its course. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new medication. You can also check MommyMeds to determine if a drug is breastfeeding-compatible.