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, 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 benefit your baby if you keep breastfeeding them while not feeling well. The reason? Your breast milk contains antibodies.1 Antibodies are protective proteins your immune system produces in response to a foreign substance. Antibodies recognize the foreign substance, called an antigen, latch on to it and eliminate it from the body.2 By receiving your antibodies through breast milk, your baby is less likely to get sick.3 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, 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 possible that your baby could catch whatever you have the old-fashioned way – through germs and exposure to yours. But you do not have to worry about passing it directly through your milk for most viruses.
There are, of course, a few exceptions to this rule. You can find the illnesses and diseases contraindicated with breastfeeding on the CDC website.4,5
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:6
- 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 here, 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, so let’s chat about this virus specifically.
The CDC has the most up-to-date guidance on breastfeeding mothers and COVID-19 on its website here. 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 breast milk.7,8 If you have or suspect you have COVID-19, there are special precautions to take if you continue breastfeeding. This includes wearing a mask and washing your hands because a mom with COVID-19 could spread the virus to their infant through tiny droplets that spread when they talk, cough, or sneeze. If you are well enough to continue breastfeeding your baby, breastfeeding is considered safe when you have COVID-19, and you 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.