Can you breastfeed if you are sick?

It is generally safe to keep breast feeding if you have a common illness like a cold or flu.

While you may not feel like breast feeding when you have the flu or other common illness, it is usually safe for your baby to keep feeding. In fact, it could help protect your little one from becoming sick too.

Most common illnesses – like a cold, flu, mastitis, stomach virus or food poisoning – are not passed through breast milk. Indeed, by the time you start feeling poorly, your little one has probably been exposed to your germs through your cuddles and care anyway.

Breast feeding can actually help your baby, because your body produces antibodies when you are sick, and these antibodies are passed through your breast milk to your bub to help them fight the illness. Your mature immune response may be just what your little one needs during your illness.

Things to remember if you fall ill

If you fall sick when breast feeding, it is important to look after yourself. If you can, sleep whenever your baby sleeps, get some help for a few days while you recover, and don’t forget to stay hydrated and maintain a nutritious diet.

If you’ve got a common illness like a cold or flu, try to breast feed as frequently as usual. Feed lying down if you’re low on energy; or if you are in hospital and separated from your baby, then ask the nurses to provide a breast pump to maintain your milk supply.

Don’t forget to inform your doctor or pharmacist that you are breast feeding so they can confirm that it’s safe for you to continue feeding your little one during your treatment and recovery.

What to do with more serious conditions

Sometimes, if you have a more serious illness or medical condition, you may not be able to continue breast feeding. This is rare, so don’t give up without asking your doctor, pharmacist and lactation consultant first.

If you are taking any medication, whether prescription or over-the-counter, always speak to your doctor, pharmacist or lactation consultant to find out if it is safe to keep breast feeding. And be aware that some medications which are safe to take when breast feeding may decrease your milk supply.

You should not breast feed if you have HIV, AIDS, untreated active tuberculosis, untreated active brucellosis, a herpes lesion or syphilitic lesion on the breast or nipple. Nor, if you are taking antiretroviral medications, or undergoing radiation treatment and some types of chemotherapy.

Remember, if you are ever unsure, check with your doctor or healthcare professional.

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