Expert Advice

Is it safe to breastfeed when sick?

Feeling unwell and worried about passing germs through your breast milk? How you can rest up, recover and continue to safely breastfeed…

By Fiona Wright

If you've been struck down with a cold or flu, the general advice is to keep breastfeeding.

Fertility specialist Dr Sonya Jessup says: "Breastfeeding when sick can impart important immunity to the baby and is generally recommended. Breastmilk contains antibodies and is full of so many nutrients that the benefits for baby far outweigh the chance of passing on an illness."

What if the mum feels too lousy to feed?

"If mum is too unwell to breastfeed, an option could be to express but a pump never does as well in emptying the breast. You also don't want to be in a situation where too much pumping results in mastitis," cautions Dr Jessup.

At home follow safe hygiene practices like frequent hand washing but don't become obsessed with cleanliness.

"Hand washing is always a good idea as well as keeping the nipple area clean. However, babies don't benefit from completely sterile environments as exposure to some germs can help build their immune system," explains Dr Jessup.

If you're feeling really unwell, be sure to see your doctor. *Image: Getty Images.*
If you're feeling really unwell, be sure to see your doctor. Image: Getty Images.

If you're feeling really unwell, be sure to see your doctor. For mild cold symptoms, paracetamol is ok to take while breastfeeding.

"You can take paracetamol as well as a nasal spray and drink plenty of fluids," says Dr Jessup.

One risk associated with sickness can be a drop in milk supply but Dr Jessup says the best way to increase milk is by your own fluid intake.

If a mother needs to be hospitalised, Dr Jessup explains she can still continue with her breastfeeding plan. "Breastfeed or express before surgery. Plan ahead and have some frozen breast milk stored in the fridge. Once in hospital, continue to breastfeed your baby or express."

Continues after video …

What is mastitis?

If one of the tiny tubes that carries breastmilk becomes blocked, the milk can't flow well, which can cause a painful lump. This may be the result of a tight bra or an area not draining properly, or it might be caused by holding your breast too tightly while feeding.

To avoid developing an infection called mastitis, it's important to get the milk moving again. If you feel unwell, have a temperature of more than 38C, have muscle aches and a hard, reddened area on your breast, see you doctor.

Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the infection, but it's also very important to continue with breastfeeding. Your baby is unlikely to be upset by this, but ask your GP for advice.

read more from