Should You Breastfeed When You Are Unwell?

Breastfeeding mothers often face a complicated situation when they are unwell. Should they continue breastfeeding their baby? Should they stop because of their illness?

By Ashwin Dewan

Should You Breastfeed When You Are Unwell?

Sonam Arya, who is mother to four-month-old Aarav, recently fell ill due to a bout of cold. Since her baby relies entirely on breastmilk, she is worried if it is okay for her to breastfeed her baby during her illness. It is only after a visit to the doctor that her fears are dismissed. The doctor assures Sonam she could continue breastfeeding her little one provided she takes care and follows some precautions. Sonam is not the only mother who has doubts regarding breastfeeding during illness. 

In times of illness, the first question that comes to every breastfeeding mother's mind is whether she can continue breastfeeding her baby. Will she transfer any infection to her baby if she is breastfeeding him during her sickness?

If a mother has fallen ill due to ordinary illnesses like cold, cough, sore throat, flu, stomach upset, mild fever, etc. she can still breastfeed. But, the mother needs to inform the doctor she is breastfeeding the baby and the doctor can then prescribe medicines that are perfectly compatible with breastfeeding.

During breastfeeding, most medications are safe to take. For ones that are not recommended, there is always a safe alternative.

Should Mothers Breastfeed When They Are Unwell?

Yes, it is perfectly safe for mothers to breastfeed their babies even when they are unwell provided they take certain precautions. Breastfeeding during sickness might be a difficult time for mothers. Not only they have to take care of their own health, but be careful to prevent the baby from falling ill, apart from meeting the infant's nutritional requirements.

Breastfeeding when a mother is ill is perfectly normal. Here is a look at some tips to help mothers continue breastfeeding even when they are ill.

1) Plenty of fluids and a nutritious diet:

When they are breastfeeding, mothers should ensure they are properly hydrated. A healthy diet should be consumed so that both the mother and the baby get all the nutrients they need. Prolonged periods without eating or drinking can affect the prolactin levels and lower the supply of milk.

2) Sufficient rest and sleep:

Trying to breastfeed when one is sick can be an exhausting task. One mistake mothers make during this period is ignoring their own health in order to take care of the baby. This is a wrong approach. The mother should get plenty of rest to make sure she is energised to look after the baby and herself.

Breastfeeding plays a significant role in keeping the baby and the mother healthy. Feeding your baby breast milk is a good practice. Go through the following ClipBook to know the importance of breastfeeding.

3) Natural remedies in place of medications:

To cut down on the amount of medication a mother takes while breastfeeding, it is recommended they try natural remedies. For example, during a cold, using a vaporiser or inhaling a steam from warm salt water are some ways a mother can reduce her dependence on medications.

4) Keep germs at bay:

Even if a mother is breastfeeding when ill, she can always take certain preventive measures through which she can prevent the baby from falling sick. These measures include: ensuring that hands are clean and sanitised before touching the baby, avoiding sneezing/coughing near the baby, limiting face-to-face contact, etc.

5) Let someone take care of you:

Breastfeeding when unwell can be a punishing task. It will help breastfeeding mothers if they get some extra help/someone to take care of them during this difficult period. It can be a family member or a friend or a partner. They can take care of household chores while the mother focuses on getting better.

Can breastfeeding during illness benefit the baby?

According to a leading parenting website, during sickness, the body of the mother is mounting an immune response, and the mother passes the illness-fighting antibodies to the baby through breastfeeding. However, if the mother has fever that lasts for more than three days, it is best to visit the doctor and get the appropriate treatment.

Author Jennifer Ritchie, owner of Milkalicious and author of "I Make Milk! What's Your Superpower?", says "one drop of breast milk contains one million living white blood cells and helps create a coating in your baby's nose and throat to prevent germs from entering her body.” Often, it is noticed that a breastfed baby is more immune to a number of viruses and infections as compared to the rest of the household members.

Mothers can go ahead and breastfeed their baby provided they follow some basic instructions as discussed above. In fact, we all know the importance of breastmilk and that its benefits go beyond basic nutrition.

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