If you’re a nursing mom and catch a cold, you might be wondering “Is it OK to breastfeeding while sick?”

In most cases? YES! Read on to find out why, plus:

  • Why breastfeeding while sick may actually help baby’s immune system
  • When you shouldn’t continue breastfeeding while sick
  • How to minimize the spread of germs
  • Plus, how to take care of yourself during this time

Can You Breastfeed While Sick?

If you catch the common cold, flu, or stomach virus, there is no reason to stop breastfeeding while sick.

Breastmilk does not transmit viruses to babies, and as the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) explains,

“If a mother has a cold or the flu, it is not necessary to discontinue or interrupt breastfeeding […] Generally, by the time a disease has been diagnosed, the infant has been exposed and will probably benefit more from the protection he gets from his mother’s breast milk than from weaning.”

Not only that, the AAP explains, but continued breastfeeding guarantees that babies “receive the antibodies that the mother is producing to fight the illness.” This is one of the special things about breastfeeding. So rock on, mama. 💪

When Should You Stop Breastfeeding While Sick?

It’s rare, but certain illnesses or conditions might require temporary weaning (or pumping and dumping to keep up your supply).

You should discuss any serious illness with your healthcare provider, but according to the AAP’s “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk,” a mother should stop breastfeeding while sick if she has one of seven maternal medical conditions:

  • HIV infection (this is specifically for mothers who reside in the U.S.)
  • Herpes simplex lesion on the breast (mothers can breastfeed on the unaffected breast)
  • Untreated tuberculosis disease (you can generally resume breastfeeding after two weeks of treatment)
  • Untreated brucellosis
  • Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I–or II–positive
  • Mothers who develop varicella (chickenpox) at the end of pregnancy or early postpartum (expressed milk can be used for feeding)
  • Certain flu seasons (H1N1) outbreaks caused doctors to recommend temporary weaning (this varies and you should talk to your healthcare provider if you are diagnosed with the flu)

There are also rare cases, like sepsis or serious food poisoning, where an infection reaches a mother’s bloodstream and a mother might need to stop breastfeeding while she is being treated.

“Maternal infections of the genitourinary or gastrointestinal tract do not pose a risk to infants except in the rare circumstances when septicemia occurs and bacteria might reach the milk,” explains Dr. Ruth Lawrence. “Even in this event, continued breastfeeding while the mother receives appropriate antibiotic therapy that is compatible with breastfeeding is the safest course for the infant.”

What Medications Can I Take While Breastfeeding?

It is rare that a mother would need to stop breastfeeding while sick in order to take medication. If antibiotics are necessary, a mom can ask for the most breastfeeding-friendly treatment option possible. Though there are definitely antibiotics that are contraindicated for breastfeeding, it’s rare that there aren’t other options to consider.

Common antibiotics that are generally safe to take while breastfeeding include:

  • Amoxicillin (for bacterial infections, like strep throat or ear infections)
  • Penicillin (for bacterial infections, like strep throat or ear infections)
  • Azithromycin (for bacterial infections, like pink eye or bacterial bronchitis)

Common antibiotics that may not be safe to take while breastfeeding include:

  • Doxycycline (for bacterial infections, like urinary tract infection and eye infections)
  • Clindamycin (for severe bacterial infections, like sinus infection and middle ear infection)
  • Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (for bacterial infections, like ear infections and pneumonia)

If you have any questions about breastfeeding and medications, LactMed, a government-sponsored database of medications and their safety for breastfeeding mothers, is an excellent resource.

Note: Always make sure to advocate for yourself and ask your healthcare provider to consider the importance of breastfeeding while sick. 

Why You SHOULD Continue to Breastfeed While Sick

It’s very important to continue breastfeeding while sick, as long as you get the OK from your healthcare provider.

Sounds a little backwards, right?! Hear me out: We already know that breastfeeding has major benefits, but breastfeeding while sick actually offers your baby much-needed protection from whatever illness it is that’s making the round through your house—an illness your baby was probably exposed to before you even started having symptoms.

  • By receiving your antibodies (mainly secretory IgA antibodies) directly through your milk, your baby is much less likely to get sick.
  • If baby does get sick, he/she will probably get a less severe version of whatever you have, and are likely to recover sooner, and with less risk of hospitalization. (source)

Breastfeeding while sick also avoids unexpected weaning, which ups your chances of getting plugged ducts or mastitis (not a fun thing to have when you are already sick!).

How to Keep Baby From Getting Your Illness

All of this being said, no one wants a sick baby!

If you’re breastfeeding while sick., here are some ways to minimize the spread of germs:

  • Wash hands before feeding or handling your baby
  • Try not to touch your mouth, nose, or eyes
  • Avoid sneezing and coughing near baby (cough and sneeze droplets can travel much further than you might guess!)
  • Limit kisses and close contact, except during feeding. (This is such a hard one; consider having someone else take over in the cuddle department until you are better.)
  • Wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth during feeding, especially if you have a serious illness like the flu or RSV
  • And with serious illness, you can pump and let someone else feed baby

During your illness, take probiotics, especially if you are on antibiotics. Antibiotic use can increase your baby’s chances of getting thrush, because they kill both the “good” and “bad” bacteria in your body, increasing the chances of yeast overgrowth. You don’t want thrush on top of everything else! Trust me.

Consider giving your baby probiotics as well. Having a strong, healthy gut can help prevent your baby from getting sick, and speed up his recovery if he does get sick.  Check out this post for more natural ways to boost your child’s immune system.

How to Stay Comfortable When Breastfeeding While Sick

Now that you are confident that it’s okay—and actually encouraged—to keep breastfeeding while sick, let’s move on to you. You’ve got to take care of yourself as much as possible while you are sick.

  • Nurse lying down: All breastfeeding moms should learn the side-lying position. It’s the best way to rest while nursing. And your little one might just drift off into sweet slumber, too. Win-win!
  • Hydrate! Nursing moms need extra water as it is, but illness can dehydrate you further. Aim for at least 10 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
  • Keep a bottle of water or a cup of tea near your bedside at all times. Ask your partner or a family member to set that up for you.
  • Before using OTC medication, try natural remedies first, as cold medicine can decrease your milk supply (specifically any medication with pseudoephedrine in it).

Natural remedies to help boost your immune system include:

  1. Honey: A natural antimicrobial and antibacterial agent, raw honey can be added to tea or consumed by the teaspoon.
  2. Apple cider vinegar: ACV alkalizes the body and contains “good” bacteria to help fight off infection. Try adding a tablespoon of ACV to a glass of water or tea.
  3. Garlic: Garlic contains allicin, which has been proven to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antiseptic properties. For maximum effectiveness, eat one raw clove two to three times per day. To make it more palatable, mix it with a bit of raw honey.
  4. Elderberry syrup: Elderberry syrup is an immune stimulant, which has been proven to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold. Take when you feel something coming on.
  5. And of course, chicken soup. Don’t underestimate the healing power of this age-old remedy. Studies show that chicken noodle soup has mild anti-inflammatory effects that may provide relief from upper respiratory infections.

Check out this post for more natural remedies for cough and cold.

How About You?

How did you handle breastfeeding while sick? Did baby catch your illness? What advice would you give other mamas who have come down with an illness while breastfeeding?