It’s that time of year again! FLU SEASON!!! In San Diego, we have been hit especially hard with the 3-5 day stomach flu these past few weeks. I am getting phone calls, texts, and emails from worried mothers wondering if they should breastfeed their infants while they are sick. The overwhelming answer is YES, and this is why.
When we are bombarded with germs in our environment, our bodies create immunity towards these germs so that we can stay healthy. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. A breastfeeding mother not only creates immunity for her own body, but her breastmilk contains immunological properties (antibodies) as well, which are passed on to her nursing child. It’s as if your baby is getting an extra dose of immunity with each breastfeeding session. Also, by the time a mother and/or baby begin to show symptoms of a cold, flu, etc., they have already been contagious for a few days, so no need to stop now. This is why it is absolutely imperative for a breastfeeding mother to continue to nurse her child while she sick….it will hopefully keep your baby from getting sick, or at least to a lesser degree.
What Can A Mother Do to Continue to Breastfeed While Sick?
When you have a cold or the flu, all you want to do is climb in bed and sleep the day away. This is nearly impossible if you have a child in the home, whether she is nursing or not. Here are some ways to manage those horrible days when you are completely under the weather:
Stay as hydrated as possible, especially if you have the stomach flu. When your fluids are low, it may cause a temporary decrease in your milk supply, which can be concerning for a breastfeeding mother. Drink lots of water and/or coconut water (which has electrolytes!). Have a loved one make you soup. My favorite soup to make while sick is this Healing Chicken Ginger Soup. Add some hot sauce to it and it will clean your nose right up. If you are dealing with some stomach discomfort, you may want to leave out anything spicy.
Stay away from medications that dry up your sinuses (like antihistamines). They can temporarily decrease your milk supply. Instead, use a cool mist humidifier with eucalyptus to help open up your sinuses. I also love the neti pot, which really clears out your nose. Just make sure that you REALLY clean it after using it, as there were some concerns raised in the last few months. Check out this article about Safely Using Your Neti Pot. Here is an article about How to Use a Neti Pot. Ask an herbalist about which herbs are safe to take while breastfeeding to relieve your discomfort.
If you decide to take medication to help with your symptoms, check out LactMed to see if it is safe to take while breastfeeding. You could also call your local Lactation Consultant and ask her to check the medication in Thomas Hale’s book, Medications and Mother’s Milk.
Support your own immunity. Get as much rest as possible. Eat a nutrient-rich diet full of Vitamin D, Vitamin B, and Omega 3s or at least take a multivitamin every day.
For more detailed information about medications you can take while breastfeeding, check out this wonderful article on Breastfeeding Basics: When a Nursing Mother Gets Sick.
Please note: there are a very few rare instances when a mother would need to stop breastfeeding due to a serious illness. Per Dr. Ruth Lawrence, “HIV and HTLV-1 are the only infectious diseases that are considered absolute contraindications to breastfeeding in developed countries’ (Lawrence & Lawrence, 2001.)