Updated: Mar 25
Breastfeeding when you are sick is the best thing you can do for your baby. Breastmilk has the amazing ability to create antibodies that protects your baby against bacteria and viruses that you are exposed to. The magical component in breastmilk responsible for this immunity is called IgA. There are many protective agents in breastmilk but IgA has the ability to recognize potentially harmful viruses and bacteria and completely change the "recipe" of breastmilk to provide your baby with specific immunity.
"Breastfeeding is very rarely contraindicated in maternal infection. Documenting transmission of infection from mother to infant breastfeeding requires not only the exclusion of other possible mechanisms of transmission but also the demonstration of the infectious agent in the breast milk and a subsequent clinically significant infection in the infant caused by a plausible infectious process" (Lawrence & Lawrence, 2005, pp. 629-630)
There are very rare situations where a mother may be prescribed a medication that is not compatible with breastfeeding. It's important for your physician to know that you are breastfeeding and also let them know how old your child is and how often they nurse. There are many breastfeeding friendly medications available and it is a very rare situation where mothers have to 'pump and dump' their milk.
The only time that mothers should consider temporarily stopping breastfeeding is when they are simply too sick to carry on. Illnesses such as a cold, sore throat, urinary tract infections, vomiting, diarrhea and mastitis are all compatible with breastfeeding. If you have concerns about your health or your baby's health at any time, you should consult your physician for advice. Ask questions about breastfeeding and taking medications. A pharmacist is also a great resource for information on medication safety while breastfeeding.
"Maternal infections of the genitourinary or gastrointestinal tract do not pose a risk to infants except in the rare circumstances when septicemia occurs and bacteria might reach the milk. Even in this event, continued breastfeeding while the mother receives appropriate antibiotic therapy that is compatible with breastfeeding is the safest course for the infant. If the infecting organism is especially virulent or contagious (e.g., an invasive group A streptococcal infection causing severe disease in the mother), breastfeeding should continue after a temporary suspension during the first 24 hours of maternal therapy. Prophylactic or empiric therapy for the infant, against the same organism, may be indicated.” [source: Lawrence RM & Lawrence RA. Given the Benefits of Breastfeeding, what Contraindications Exist? Pediatric Clinics of North America2001 (February);48(1): 235-51.]
When you are sick it can help to tuck baby in bed beside you and nurse in a side lying position frequently while you rest. It's also important to make sure that you are drinking a lot of fluids, eating as well as you can and washing your hands frequently. If you have a particularly virulent illness, your baby might still get sick but their illness will often be less intense and shorter in duration if breastfeeding continues.
Take care of yourselves, take care of your family and wash your hands!