It’s that time of year again- sick season. Continuing to breastfeed while you and/or your little one are sick has many benefits. Breastfeeding also goes way beyond just nutrition. It also provides both comfort and hydration for baby, both of which are very needed when they’re sick! Breastfed babies also tend to get sick less often, and for a shorter period of time when compared to formula-fed babies. Breastmilk is chalk-full of incredible healing properties and contains both antibacterial and antiviral elements. Breastmilk is truly amazing and ever-changing based on baby’s needs. When you or your little one get sick, your body will automatically begin producing antibodies which will transfer to baby through your breastmilk. The composition of nutrients in your milk also changes as baby grows or has changing needs. Breastmilk is truly the one-stop-shop for healing properties when it comes to illness!
Not only is your breastmilk full of immunity-boosting properties, it is also very easily digestible for baby.1 This may mean it is the only thing baby can keep down when they aren’t feeling well. It will also ensure they stay hydrated and receive the proper vitamins and minerals to start feeling better. Baby may be less interested in solid foods (if they are at that stage) while sick, so they may look to breastfeed more often. Your one year old who was hardly nursing may now be nursing like a newborn! Remember, breastmilk is supply-and-demand, so your body will quickly adjust to these new needs (and readjust after).
You may need to slightly alter how you feed baby while they are sick. If your little one has a stuffed-up nose, they may want to feed for shorter periods of time, but more often. You can also play with different breastfeeding positions (such as having baby sitting upright) to make it more comfortable for them to nurse. It may also help to use a nasal aspirator to clear baby’s nose before feedings if they are really struggling. You may find that baby is able to eat easier through a syringe or cup during this time. Work with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant to figure out the best strategy for your little one. If you’re the one who is sick, you can try lying down in bed and nursing baby that way to get a little extra rest! You may have to get creative during this time, but you’ve got this!
Continuing to breastfeed your baby while you are sick can benefit you as well! This means baby will be less likely to come down with whatever has you down. They have already been in contact with you and are receiving antibodies from your breastmilk, so their immune system is ready to fight off whatever you have!1 It’s not easy to continue caring for your little one when you are sick, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. Moms don’t get sick days! Try to take care of yourself as well. Remember to stay hydrated and keep eating. Rest when you can and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may notice a slight dip in your breastmilk supply while you are sick, especially if you are breastfeeding or pumping less frequently. Try not to focus on supply too much, as it should bounce back once you’re feeling better. Instead, focus on remaining hydrated and eating nutritious foods when you can. You should not stop breastfeeding abruptly as this could lead to mastitis. You may also want to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what medications you can take for a cold while breastfeeding. There are certain medications (like decongestants) that may impact your milk supply, so always check before taking any medication.
If you are too sick to breastfeed, you may also choose to pump and have another caregiver provide a bottle to your baby. This will allow baby to still receive the same immune-boosting properties and antibodies as if they were nursing directly. Colds and viruses cannot be passed through breastmilk, so there is no risk of baby getting sick through your milk. However, they can still get sick from you coughing or sneezing, so be sure to practice good hygiene habits while handling your little one. You may even choose to wear a mask while feeding them if that makes you more comfortable. Though your curious toddler may pull it right off!
There are very few times when breastfeeding is advised against. Always ask your healthcare provider if you are unsure. Breastfeeding is a full time job, and it is especially difficult when you and your little one aren’t feeling well. However, the benefits to continuing breastfeeding while sick are huge. If you are the first to get sick, you will provide your baby with antibodies that may prevent them from getting sick in the first place, or at least shorten the duration of illness. If baby is the first to get sick, your body will produce antibodies for them to help them recover faster. If you’re an exclusively pumping mama, you can snuggle and kiss and love on your little one extra while they are sick to signal your body to produce antibodies specific to their illness! Breastmilk is truly incredible! Hopefully continuing your breastfeeding journey through this sick season will make it just a little easier on all of you.
1AG, M. (2022, October 13). Breastfeeding while you or your baby are sick. Medela. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.medela.com/breastfeeding/mums-journey/breastfeeding-while-sick
2 Bonyata, K. (2018, March 17). Should breastfeeding continue when mom is sick? • kellymom.com. KellyMom.com. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/illness-surgery/mom-illness/
3 Novak, S. (2022, September 1). Breastfeeding when you're sick. What to Expect. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-while-sick/
 Medela AG, Breastfeeding while you or your baby are sick (Medela, 2022).  Kelly Bonyata, Should breastfeeding continue when mom is sick? (KellyMom.com, 2018).  Sara Novak, Breastfeeding when you’re sick (What to Expect, 2022).