Getting sick when you’re breastfeeding and have a baby to take care of can be challenging. Some moms wonder – should I keep breastfeeding when I’m sick? Is there a way to avoid a drop in milk supply when sick? How can I increase my milk supply after being sick?
Should I Keep Breastfeeding When I’m Sick?
In almost all cases when you’re sick, yes, you should keep breastfeeding your baby. This is true whether you’re exclusively pumping or nurse at times.
There are a few exceptions – in the United States, the CDC recommends that:
- Mothers with HIV, Human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1), or Ebola should not nurse or feed their babies expressed breast milk at all
- Women with untreated brucellosis (a bacterial infection transmitted through animals) or an active herpes simples virus (HSV) infection with a lesion on the breast should not nurse their babies or feed expressed breast milk until the issue is resolved
- Mothers with untreated, active tuberculosis or chicken pox should not nurse but CAN feed their babies expressed breast milk
As of March 2019, these are the only known contraindications for breastfeeding and illness.
But Will My Breast Milk Make My Baby Sick?
In most cases, your baby would already have been exposed to your illness before you started showing symptoms. Additionally, the antibodies in your breast milk can help PROTECT your baby from your illness. From “How Breast Milk Protects Newborns” by Dr. Jack Newman:
First, the collection of antibodies transmitted to an infant is highly targeted against pathogens in that child’s immediate surroundings. The mother synthesizes antibodies when she ingests, inhales or otherwise comes in contact with a disease-causing agent. Each antibody she makes is specific to that agent; that is, it binds to a single protein, or antigen, on the agent and will not waste time attacking irrelevant substances. Because the mother makes antibodies only to pathogens in her environment, the baby receives the protection it most needs-against the infectious agents it is most likely to encounter in the first weeks of life.
Of course, it’s a good idea idea to do normal illness-prevention routines such as frequently washing hands, covering your mouth while you cough and sneeze, etc.
(Note: I don’t endorse this, but if despite the above you still REALLY don’t like the idea of giving your baby your breast milk when you’re sick, that doesn’t mean you have to wean if you don’t want to. Keep pumping as much as you can on your schedule and dump the milk. Then you can go back to normal when you feel better.)
What Should I Do While I’m Sick to Keep My Supply From Tanking?
Some moms have noticed that their milk supply drops when they get sick. Here are a few things you can do to try to prevent this.
Stick to your pumping schedule as much as possible in order to protect your supply long-term.
It’s hard when you’re sick and need to rest and have a baby to take care of, so do the best you can.
If you’re hospitalized and would like to continue breastfeeding, the hospital should be able to provide you with a hospital-grade pump like this one and store your milk for you.
Do not take medications that affect milk supply.
Some medications, like pseudoephedrine for congestion (found in Sudafed), can reduce milk supply. MOST medications are fine for breastfeeding moms (or there is an acceptable substitute), so just check before you take something.
You don’t need to drink a ton of extra fluid, just make sure you drink about as much as you normally would.
Get as much rest as possible.
I know it’s hard. If there are people you can ask for help (partner, family, friends), do it! And let house stuff go for now – you’re in survival mode.
Keep pumping even if your baby doesn’t want to eat.
If your baby is sick and not taking as much milk, keep pumping on your normal schedule so that you don’t lose supply even if you don’t need the milk right now. Your baby’s appetite will be back in a few days and you want to make sure you’ll still have enough milk for him then.
(If you’re a nursing mom and your baby is not nursing as much, it’s a good idea to pump to keep your supply up until he feels better.)
How Can I Increase Milk Supply After Being Sick?
Here are a few things you can do to recover your milk supply after illness.
Get back on your pumping schedule and stick to it as much as possible
It may take a few days to a few weeks to see an increase, but the consistency should help.
Do breast compressions
Breast compressions push the milk out of your milk ducts, helping you get as much milk as possible out of your pumping sessions. To do them, you want to massage your breasts while you pump (basically, just move your hands around and squeeze).
Eat oatmeal/lactation cookies/brownies/etc.
A lot of women find that they are able to pump an extra ounce or two on the days that they eat oatmeal for breakfast. (I’m one of them!) It’s an easy thing to try when you need a supply boost. If, like me, you don’t really like oatmeal, try lactation cookies, or brownies, or a smoothie, or something else that contains it.
If you’re not up to making lactation cookies yourself, there are tons of options you can buy already made.
(And make sure you eat enough!)
Power pumping is meant to mimic cluster feeding, where a baby is on and off the breast for an hour or more. With power pumping, you pump for 20 minutes or so, and then on and off every 10 minutes for an hour. More info here.
Consider galactagogues like nursing teas, fenugreek, and blessed thistle
If you’ve tried the above tactics and are not seeing an increase, there are some herbs like fenugreek and blessed thistle that many women find helpful. They are available both in capsule form and in teas. Domperidone is a medication option (though it can be difficult to get in the United States).
Have you had to breastfeed through an illness? How did you increase milk supply after being sick? Tell us your experience in the comments!References
- Bonyata, Kelly, IBCLC. “Should breastfeeding continue when mom is sick?” https://kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/illness-surgery/mom-illness/
- CDC. “Brucellosis.” https://www.cdc.gov/brucellosis/transmission/index.html
- CDC. “Contraindications to Breastfeeding or Feeding Expressed Breast Milk to Infants.” https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/Contraindications-to-breastfeeding.html
- CDC. “Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).” https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/maternal-or-infant-illnesses/hiv.html
- Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. “Human T-cell leukemia virus type 1.” https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/9645/human-t-cell-leukemia-virus-type-1
- Medela. “Breastfeeding With A Cold Or Flu.” https://www.medelabreastfeedingus.com/article/217/breastfeeding-with-a-cold-or-flu
- Newman, Jack. “How Breast Milk Protects Newborns.” https://kellymom.com/pregnancy/bf-prep/how_breastmilk_protects_newborns/