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?

A day or two ago, Sonam Arya, mother of four-month-old Aarav, caught a cold. And, that left her feeling extremely worried. She wondered if it would be okay to breastfeed her baby while she is sick. However, she came back reassured and happy after a visit to the doctor. The doctor assured Sonam that she could continue breastfeeding her little one provided she took certain precautions. 

Sonam is not the only mother who has doubts regarding breastfeeding during illness. During times of illness, the first question that comes to every breastfeeding mother's mind is, 'Can I continue breastfeeding my baby?' Most mothers are unsure about breastfeeding and worry about the fact if that would result in transferring the infection to their baby.

However, the fact is, a mother with illnesses like cold, cough, sore throat, flu, stomach upset and mild fever can still breastfeed. But, the mother should get a medical consult at the earliest and inform her doctor that she is breastfeeding. This way, the physician would only prescribe medicines that are compatible with breastfeeding.

Also, most medications are safe to take during breastfeeding. And, for ones that are not, there is always a safe alternative.

Is it safe for mothers to 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. However, breastfeeding while suffering from an illness might prove a difficult task for mothers. For, not only do they have to take care of their own health, but also be careful while handling the baby to prevent her from falling ill.

Breastfeeding precautions to take when mothers are sick

1. Have plenty of fluids and a nutritious diet: Breastfeeding mothers should ensure that they stay hydrated. Their diet should be such that it supplies all the nutrients needed by both the mother and the baby. Not eating or drinking for prolonged periods can affect the prolactin levels and lower the supply of milk.

2. Get adequate rest and sleep: Trying to breastfeed during a bout of illness can be an exhausting experience. A mistake that most mothers in India make is ignoring their own health to take care of the baby. This is a wrong approach. A mother should ensure that she gets plenty of rest to make sure she stays energised to care for her baby and herself.

Breastfeeding plays a significant role in keeping both the baby and the mother healthy. Flip through the pages of our ClipBook to know more about the importance of breastfeeding.

3. Seek natural remedies instead of taking medications: It would be a good idea for breastfeeding mothers to try natural remedies for common conditions instead of resorting to taking medications. For example, during a cold, using a vaporiser or inhaling steam from warm salt water works. Such natural remedies can help bring down the dependence on medications.

4. Keep germs at bay: During illness, taking certain precautions while breastfeeding can prevent the baby from falling sick. These measures include: ensuring hands are clean and sanitised before touching the baby, avoiding sneezing/coughing near the baby and limiting face-to-face contact.

5. Let someone take care of you: Breastfeeding during illness can be a punishing task. So, it helps to get someone to help the mother or take care care of her during this difficult period. The caretaker can be a family member or a friend or the spouse who can take care of the household while the mother focuses on getting better.

Does breastfeeding during illness benefit the baby?

According to a leading parenting website, during illness, the body of the mother mounts an immune response. So, breastfeeding during this period results in the mother passing on the illness-fighting antibodies to the baby through her milk. However, if the mother has fever that lasts more than three days, a visit to the doctor is a must to get appropriate treatment.

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.” As a result, a breastfed baby is more immune to a number of viruses and infections compared to other members of the household.

So, mothers go ahead and breastfeed your baby even when you're sick. However, ensure that you take all the precautions suggested by your doctor.

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