Breastfeeding and Illness During Cold and Flu Season

Cold and flu season is upon us. Getting sick while being a mom is never easy and breastfeeding while you or the baby is sick can have challenges. Here are some ways to get you through this year’s cold and flu season while breastfeeding:

Consider the flu vaccine and wash your hands!

Children under 6 months of age aren’t eligible to get the flu vaccine but pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, siblings, and other family members are. Getting your flu vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding and encouraging other family members to do the same is the best way to help prevent the flu in younger babies. Hand washing and general hygiene measures are other effective ways to prevent germ sharing.

If you do get a cold or the flu

Symptoms of the flu include sore throat, nasal congestion, dry cough, fatigue, muscle aches, weakness, headache, and fever greater than 100.4. You may be contagious up to 24 hours before symptoms appear and up to 7 days after symptoms develop. 

If you develop cold/flu symptoms, you should continue to breastfeed using extra precautions like handwashing, sanitizing surfaces, and using tissues when coughing/sneezing. You can not pass a cold or flu through your breastmilk to your baby. In fact, breast milk contains millions of immune cells, even more when you are sick and your baby is getting those extra germ fighting cells with every feed! This is nature’s way of protecting the baby while breastfeeding continues.

Taking care of yourself

In most healthy adults, treatments for the cold and flu are comfort measures. Making sure you take in plenty of fluids and eat nourishing foods. Use saline sprays and humidifiers for nasal congestion and throat lozenges for sore throat and cough. If you are sick enough to need antiviral medications, Tamiflu is preferred for breastfeeding mothers over other antiviral medications. 

If you need to take over the counter (OTC) medications to help treat symptoms, most OTC medications are compatible with breastfeeding but some medications are preferred over others. Choose shorter acting medications (medications you need to take every 4-6 hours) over medications that last longer. Medications containing Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) may cause a decrease in production and should be avoided if possible. Always nurse your baby or pump immediately prior to taking medications to limit passage into breast milk. Contact an IBCLC or use LactMed’s online database to look up medications and their compatibility with breastfeeding.

If your baby gets sick 

Even when your baby is sick, breast milk provides all the hydration and nutrition your baby needs. Breast milk is easy to digest and provides protection (remember those immune cells?). Saline drops with gentle nasal suctioning, using a humidifier, with smaller, more frequent feeds may help with congestion during feeds. Contact your pediatrician if fever develops, feeding difficulties last longer than 24 hours, or if you notice a decrease in the number of wet diapers your baby is having in 24 hours. 

The picture above shows the protective effects of breast milk against germs. The “cloudy” parts of the plate are where germs are reproducing and growing. The white dots in the center are drops of breastmilk. The clear area surrounding the breast milk is the “protected” area surrounding breastmilk. Science experiment shows the amazing powers of breastmilk

Check out these other resources:

Influenza (Flu) | Breastfeeding | CDC

Influenza Season Recommendations for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Mothers | InfantRisk Center

stephanie glover, lpn

Post Author:

Stephanie Glover, LPN, IBCLC (Board Certified Lactation Consultant)

Contact Stephanie:  Send a Portal Message

Phone: 910-892-1333

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