Can I still nurse when I’m sick?

When you’re breastfeeding, you share a lot with your little one, from nutrients to a generous helping of your immune system while your child is still growing. It might seem like you could end up sharing any illnesses or diseases you might pick up, too, but in reality, that’s almost never the case.

Which illnesses can be passed on through breast milk?

Not only are most illnesses not passed on through breast milk, but the antibodies produced to fight illnesses are passed on, which means that breastfeeding when you’re sick could help keep your baby healthier than staying away while an illness runs its course. Certain conditions, however, can be passed on to a baby during nursing. These include diseases that are transmitted through the bloodstream like HIV, or are highly contagious, like untreated tuberculosis.

Despite some advice to the contrary, it is safe to breastfeed if you have food poisoning unless bacteria has crossed over into the blood. As long as food poisoning is limited to vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea, breastfeeding is still perfectly healthy, though you may want to check in with your healthcare provider if symptoms worsen. 

Why else might an illness limit nursing?

Nursing during an illness is safe, but being sick can cause a drop in milk supply that can make nursing harder. Additionally, some of the medications used to fight illness can either limit milk supply or be transmitted through breast milk and have either negative or unknown effects on the baby. Just like with medication during pregnancy, a lot of information about medication during breastfeeding is still unknown, since it’s difficult to study the effects.

Decongestants containing pseudoephedrine and cough syrups and cough drops containing menthol have both been shown to cause a drop in your body’s milk production. Different medications stay in your system for different amounts of time, so if you’re prescribed something, it’s worth talking to your healthcare provider about how long a medication lingers in your bloodstream. Depending on the medication, your provider may also suggest timing your medications for just after a feeding, so your body has the greatest possible amount of time to process the medication before the next feeding.

  • Committee on Drugs. “The Transfer of Drugs and Other Chemicals into Human Milk.” Pediatrics. 126(20): 404. Web. September 2001.
  • Gwen Gotsch. “Maternal Medications and Breastfeeding.” New Beginnings. 17(2): 55-56. Web. March-April 2000.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Breast-feeding and medications: What’s safe?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, July 30 2015. Web.
  • “Can I breastfeed my baby if I am sick?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, January 9 2016. Web.
  • “Is it safe to breastfeed if I have diarrhoea and vomiting?” NHS. Gov.UK, May 30 2015. Web.
  • “When should a mother avoid breastfeeding?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services, November 18 2015. Web.
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