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Should You Keep Breastfeeding While You’re Sick?

Cropped shot of a mother feeling unwell while sitting with her baby boy in bed at home.

by Lisa Prosser

Travel with Kids Expert

reviewed by Meg Nagle

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)

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After getting over the initial hurdle of learning how to breastfeed my newborn, in true new mom fashion, I then switched to trying to understand the complete ins and outs of how to keep my breast milk 100% safe for my baby. There is a ton of breastfeeding advice and guidance out there, but thinking about everything that could be in my milk and passed onto my baby made me nervous. Was caffeine okay? Is it really true that spicy foods will cause the milk to taste different? What’s safe to eat, drink, and do while breastfeeding? Another big question popped up after I caught an awful cold. Was it safe to… Read More

After getting over the initial hurdle of learning how to breastfeed my newborn, in true new mom fashion, I then switched to trying to understand the complete ins and outs of how to keep my breast milk 100% safe for my baby. There is a ton of breastfeeding advice and guidance out there, but thinking about everything that could be in my milk and passed onto my baby made me nervous. Was caffeine okay? Is it really true that spicy foods will cause the milk to taste different? What’s safe to eat, drink, and do while breastfeeding? Another big question popped up after I caught an awful cold. Was it safe to keep nursing while you’re sick? And what if you are taking medication?

Breastfeeding While Sick: What You Should Know

The short answer is it is safe to keep nursing your baby while you are sick. But there are a few things you should know first. Here’s what you should know about breastfeeding while you’re feeling a little under the weather.

Is It Safe to Breastfeed While I’m Sick?

It can actually be very beneficial to your baby if you keep breastfeeding them while you’re not feeling so well. The reason? Your breast milk contains antibodies. Antibodies are a protective protein produced by your immune system in response to a foreign substance. Antibodies recognize the foreign substance, called an antigen, latch on to it and eliminate it from the body. By receiving your antibodies through your breast milk, your baby is less likely to get sick. Further, if your baby does get sick, they will probably have a less severe reaction and are more likely to recover sooner.

Besides containing antibodies for whichever specific illness you may have at the moment, your milk also has antibodies for any previous infections you’ve had. Because of this, breastfeeding in general — and continuing to breastfeed while you’re sick — can have a significant impact on helping keep your baby healthy. In the end, passing on your antibodies can lessen the severity of the illness for your baby, help them fight off the infection a little more efficiently, or prevent them from getting sick at all.

Will I Pass My Illness on to My Baby?

It’s absolutely possible that your baby could catch whatever you have the old-fashioned way – through germs and exposure to yours. But for most viruses, you do not have to worry about passing it directly through your milk.

There are, of course, a few exceptions to this rule. You can find the illnesses and diseases that are contraindicated with breastfeeding on the CDC website.

Which Medicines Can I Take While Breastfeeding?

Most medications are safe to take when breastfeeding, or there will be a suitable alternative. If you are unsure or would like to double-check, contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to ensure you know which medications are truly contraindicated when breastfeeding.

Some common antibiotics that are considered safe to take while breastfeeding include:

  • Amoxicillin— used for bacterial infections, like strep throat or ear infections
  • Penicillin— used for bacterial infections, like strep throat or ear infections
  • Azithromycin— prescribed for bacterial infections, like pink eye or bacterial bronchitis

You can check with your doctor and IBCLC. You can also check the database LactMed, the government-sponsored database of medications, and their safety while breastfeeding.

What about Coronavirus? Is it Safe to Breastfeed If You Think You Have It?

Coronavirus is on everyone’s mind these days, so let’s chat about this virus specifically.

There are still so many unknowns about COVID-19. The CDC has the most up-to-date guidance on everything related to breastfeeding mothers and COVID-19 on their website. It’s a good idea to periodically check their site, and talk with your doctor if you have questions.

At the time of this article, there’s no conclusive evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be passed to your baby via your breast milk. If you have, or suspect you have COVID-19, there are special precautions to take if you choose to continue breastfeeding. This includes wearing a mask and washing your hands. If you are well enough to continue to breastfeed your baby, it is considered safe to breastfeed when you have COVID-19 and should not be separated from your baby.

As always, check with your doctor and IBCLC to have a conversation to get their recommendations so that you can make the most informed decision for you and your baby.