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Breastfeeding While Sick: Is it Safe for Your Baby?

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Breastfeeding while sick can suck the life right out of you (along with the milk). I never used to cope well with colds and flus, but then I had kids, and here’s what no one tells you: No matter how sick you are, or miserable you feel, you can’t stay under the covers all day watching TV and recuperating. You still have to be a parent. Oh, and if you’re breastfeeding, you still have to do that, too.

As the mom of two children, I’ve breastfed during raging stomach bugs and terrible colds — because my doctor told me that I should. I even have a friend who breastfed while coping with appendicitis. “I nursed my daughter before leaving for the hospital and then I pumped before having my appendectomy,” she told me. “After my surgery I had to wait for 48 hours before breastfeeding again, so I pumped and dumped to keep my milk supply up and relied on my freezer stash of breastmilk to feed her until I could nurse again.”

Still got questions? Here, Freda Rosenfeld, a board certified lactation consultant in New York City, explains why breastfeeding while sick is perfectly safe. 

Won’t my baby get my germs if I breastfeed him while I’m sick?

No. In fact, breastfeeding while sick might actually help ensure your baby’s good health, says Rosenfeld. “With a cold or flu, you should continue to nurse because usually you get sick a few day after you’ve been exposed to the germs, so you’ve already built up antibodies,” she explains. “At that point, you’re more likely to be passing on the good antibodies so your baby is less likely to get sick.” Of course, if you have a contagious rash or sore, cover it up before you handle your baby.

Can I still breastfeed my baby while taking antibiotics?

Before you take any medication while breastfeeding, consult your doctor. She will prescribe a medication that won’t harm your baby. And the good news is that most medications are safe to take while breastfeeding, says Rosenfeld. “Furthermore, very little of the actual medication gets into your breastmilk — about 1/100th of a dose.”  If you do need a medication that is unsafe for your baby, like my friend did during her appendectomy, your doctor will tell you how long you have to wait for it to leave your system before breastfeeding your baby again.

I have food poisoning. Does that mean that breastfeeding my baby is off limits?

 “I usually have moms continue to breastfeed during food poisoning,” says Rosenfeld. “The biggest concern is dehydration, rather than worrying about the babies.” Her advice? Drink plenty of liquids, especially warm beverages that are easier to consume. Oh, and she also advises nursing moms to get a support network of people around the home who can help them recover and not feel even more exhausted. Wise advice, indeed!

Basically, the long and short of it is to keep breastfeeding. The nutrients you are giving your baby far outweigh the illness you are trying to save them from, and the truth is, you already passed those germs onto your baby, anyway. So stay hydrated so that your milk supply doesn’t diminish permanently, and keep on truckin’. 

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Photo: Getty