Breastfeeding when you’re sick

Many mums worry about breastfeeding when sick and question whether it’s safe for their babies. However, breast milk contains a significant amount of antibodies that are essential in keeping the baby’s immune system from most diseases acquired by the mother. For example, when a mother has mastitis (inflammation of the mammary gland in the breast, usually caused by a bacterial infection due to a damaged nipple) the baby is left unharmed, even when in direct contact with the infected area. This can be credited to the presence of antibodies and other nutritive components of the breast milk.

Safe illnesses

When a breastfeeding mother is sick with certain illnesses, as mentioned above, it is usually safe for her to continue to keep breast feeding her child. Some examples of these illnesses include:

  • Chicken pox
  • Measles
  • Food poisoning
  • Cold/flu
  • Lyme disease
  • Typhoid Fever
  • Rubella


RELATED: What you should consider when deciding whether to breastfeed

The exceptions

There are few cases, however, when a baby may be at risk from a mum who is breastfeeding when sick, such as the ones listed below:

  • If the baby is born with galactosemia, is an inborn inability to utilize the sugar galactose, a simple sugar that makes up lactose or milk sugar. This may be associated with the absence of lactase, the enzyme responsible in lactose conversion to glucose.
  • If the mother has herpes lesions on her nipples. Herpes is an inflammation of the skin or mucous membrane that is caused by the herpes virus. The herpes virus may be excreted with the breast milk, contaminating it. It is therefore recommended that the mother temporarily cease breastfeeding until the sore is healed. Manual extraction of milk is advised to facilitate continuous milk production. However, the extracted milk needs to be discarded as it may be infected with the herpes virus.
  • If the mother’s diet is nutrient restricted, preventing quality milk production. This usually happens in the presence of more serious illnesses.
  • If the mother is on medications like lithium and methotrexate, which are inappropriate for breastfeeding.
  • If the mother has breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. It is advisable that breastfeeding should be temporarily, if not permanently, be stopped. The long duration of cancer treatment may cause a mother to decide on weaning the infant. Gradual cessation of breast stimulation is therefore advised.
  • If the mother or infant are being treated for active tuberculosis, hepatitis.
  • If the mother or infant are HIV positive.
  • If the mother has undergone previous breast reduction surgery


RELATED: Will flat nipples affect my ability to breastfeed? 

Remember that you should always consult your gynecologist or your child’s pediatrician whenever you’re unsure, especially when you’re actively taking medication for any illness.

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