Breastfeeding when Sick: Disadvantages and Benefits

Breastfeeding is good for both babies and mothers. But you may want to know, when you or your baby are sick, can you still breast-feed? This is a confusing question, but in fact, it is not as terrible as you think. Keep looking.

The good news: Breastfeeding in case of illness can have many benefits for both of you – here you can find out more.
The good news: Breastfeeding in case of illness can have many benefits for both of you – here you can find out more.

Did you know that your baby will basically get less sick when you breastfeed it? The protective properties of your breast milk, of course, cannot completely prevent disease, but they make breastfed babies less likely to get sick1 and recover faster than babies fed with infant formula.

Breast milk has antibacterial and antiviral properties[1]. Depending on how long you breastfeed, you reduce your baby’s risk of getting your baby’s colds, flu, ear and respiratory infections, vomiting and diarrhea. Scientists are even studying the potential for breast milk for the treatment of various diseases, from conjunctivitis to cancer[2].

Should I breastfeed my sick baby?

Please be sure to consult your doctor, midwife or lactation consultant, but in most cases, it is possible and important to continue breastfeeding.

When you breastfeed your sick baby, you not only give it the best conditions for quick recovery, but also comforting closeness. Your breast milk contains antibodies, white blood cells, stem cells, and protective enzymes that can fight infections and help heal. It also constantly adjusts the composition of vitamins and nutrients to help it your baby will be better as soon as possible. And that means fewer sick days and visits to the doctor for both of you.

Breastfeeding offers everything your baby needs when he’s not doing well – it’s his medicine, food, fluids and comfort.

Intriguingly, the composition of your breast milk changes when your baby is sick. If you are exposed to a bacterial or viral infection, your body will form antibodies to fight it. The proportion of immune-strengthening cells in your milk, the so-called leukocytes, also increases rapidly if your baby is not doing well.

You may have to breastfeed your baby differently if she is sick. A cold baby might want to drink more often, but shorter, because it seeks solace and because it can’t stay on the chest for so long with a blocked nose. If your baby has a blocked nose, you might want to breastfeed it upright, so you can experiment with different breastfeeding positions.

Cold: Can we continue breastfeeding?

When the mother shows the first symptoms of flu or cold, the baby has usually already been exposed to the pathogens.

Breast milk cannot protect infants from colds, as the mother’s formation of specific antibodies takes place several days after infection, i.e. when she begins to feel better.

Nevertheless, due to the antibodies formed and other resistance factors in breast milk, breastfed infants are generally less likely to develop colds and are less likely to be hospitalized than unbreasted infants.

If the mother has a fever, she needs more fluid. It can continue to breastfeed.

Can I take medication at all?

You’re right, with medication it’s similar to eating and drinking.

Of almost all the active ingredients you take, inhalor or inject during breastfeeding, your baby will also get something off. For your child, therefore, it is of course the safest thing if you do not take any medication during breastfeeding.

For small ailments such as a blocked nose, natural home remedies such as a chamomile steam bath can also help. But sometimes taking medication is simply inevitable.

Fortunately, many medicines are still tolerated[3]. Be always advised by your doctor, pharmacist, midwife or breastfeeding consultant!

Gastroenteritis and Breastfeeding

In the case of a gastrointestinal infection (i.e. diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain) of the mother, the likelihood of transmission to the child can be reduced by consistent hygiene.

This means that the child should not come into contact with vomit or chair and the mother and other caregivers should wash hands regularly with warm water and soap.

As with all infectious diseases, the specific antibodies that the mother forms during her recovery enter breast milk. Non-specific resistance factors (e.g. oligosaccharides) affect the intestinal flora of the baby in such a way that disease-causing bacteria can multiply poorly.

Gastrointestinal infections are therefore rarer and less severe in breast-fed children than in non-breastfed children.[4][5]

If a breastfeeding mother suffers from diarrhoea or vomiting, it is particularly important to quickly replace the lost fluid and electrolytes (available over the counter or self-mixed: 0.5 l water, 0.5 l fruit juice, 1 teaspoon table salt, 7-8 teaspoons sugar).

Since a breastfeeding mother delivers large amounts of water and nutrients to the child, the risk of threatening circulatory problems is greater than with a non-breast-feeding woman.

Since fever increases the need for fluids, the mother should also be careful to drink plenty of fluids. She can continue breast-feeding.[6]

Can I breastfeed if I become ill myself?

It’s probably the last thing you want to do right now, but it’s best to continue breastfeeding during almost any common condition. Whether you have a cold or flu, diarrhea and vomiting or mastitis: just continue to breastfeed normally. Not only does your breast milk not infect your baby. Instead, breast milk contains antibodies that reduce your baby’s risk of developing the same disease.

However, it can also be very strenuous to continue breastfeeding sick. You have to take care of yourself so that you can also take care of your baby. Drink a lot, eat when you can, and remember that your body needs extra rest. Make yourself comfortable on the sofa and cuddle up there for a few days with your baby. If possible, ask your family or friends to help you with the baby so you can focus on getting healthy again.

Don’t worry about your breast milk production – it will continue to work. Just don’t stop breastfeeding abruptly, otherwise you’re in danger of getting mastitis.

Good hygiene is important to minimize the risk of spreading the disease. Wash your hands before and after feeding your baby, before preparing food and food, and after going to the toilet or changing diapers with soap. Cough and sneeh into a handkerchief or into the bend of your elbow (not in your hands) if you don’t have a cloth on hand, and always wash or disinfect your hands after coughing, sneezing or brushing your nose.

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