Breastfeeding in Flu Season

As San Diego flu cases reach new high this season, many mothers are asking, “Can sick moms breastfeed?”

From my personal experience, sick moms can totally breastfeed—I once breastfed in an emergency room when down with stomach flu. And my husband was attacked the second day. Our breastfed son, then eight month old, turned out to be the only one of the family who didn’t get sick. Our pediatrician said the antibodies in breast milk protected our child.

Of course, I’m not a medical personal and may not be persuasive enough. Here is what experts have to say.

Moms should continue to breastfeed when they’re sick:

According to Alanna Levine, pediatrician, under most circumstances, sick moms should continue breastfeeding. If the mom has a standard cold, flu, or stomach virus—even if she has a fever—it’s fine to breastfeed. In fact, she probably exposed the baby to her illness days before she began showing the symptoms. And since the mom’s body is mounting an immune response, she pass those illness-fighting antibodies to her baby when she breastfeed, which will help protect the baby.

According to Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC, the best thing a mom can do for her baby when she’s sick is to continue to breastfeed. Withholding breast milk during an illness increases the possibility that baby will get sick, and deprives baby of the comfort and superior nutrition of nursing.

Tips for breastfeeding while sick:

Anne Smith, IBCLC, has the following suggestions.

Mom can take measures to prevent baby from getting sick while continue to breastfeed. Illnesses are most often transmitted through skin contact and secretions from the mouth to nose. It helps to wash hands often, avoid face-to-face contact and sneezing near the baby.

Breastfeeding the baby while the mom is sick makes it easier for mom to rest. Mom can tuck the baby into the bed with her to nurse, then have someone take him away when she’s done.

Mom needs to make sure that she get plenty of fluids when she’s sick, because it is not good if she becomes dehydrated. The milk supply may decrease during and immediately after the illness, but it will quickly build bak up when the mom fells better. Every year, over 4.3 million women in the U.S. have babies.

Nearly all of these moms will use at least one drug while they are pregnant or nursing. A mom must always consider the risk/benefit ratio when making decisions regarding whether or not to take a medication while lactating, and always consult doctor before taking any drug when you are nursing. 

When NOT to breastfeed:
It is very, very rare for a mom to need to stop breastfeeding for any illness. There are only a few very serious illness that might require a mom stop breastfeeding for a period of time or permanently. Per Dr. Ruth Lawerence in her 1985 book, “HIV and HTLV-1 are the only infectious diseases that are considered absolute contraindications to breastfeeding in developed countries.”

This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng.