Moms and dads of new babies, moms-to-be, and all the remarkable caretakers in between—if you’re wondering (or, ruminating) over the dos and don’ts of breastfeeding when under the weather, you’re not alone!
With the cold season upon us, it’s common to feel concerned about whether or not you can pass those said sniffles over to your oh-so-precious little one. I mean, a cold is no fun for anyone, but the immune system of newborns and infants aren’t nearly as developed, making them more vulnerable to symptoms and other challenges if contracted.
But, can breast milk harm your baby when you aren’t feeling your best, or is this all but a mere misconception?
Here, you’ll find the dos and don’ts of breastfeeding with a cold and what products can help you navigate your nursing journey during the winter season. Because the more comfortable you feel when nourishing your beautiful baby, the better!
Misconceptions about Breastfeeding with a Cold
Let’s talk about some of the many breastfeeding myths and misconceptions out there today—especially, when it comes to the topic of breastfeeding with a cold.
You should cleanse your nipples before breastfeeding
Cleansing your nipples is not necessary before breastfeeding as the nipples produce a substance that signals the baby towards it and helps develop immunity.
You should avoid breastfeeding entirely when sick
Mothers can typically keep up breastfeeding while sick but it’s always best to consult with your doctor first. You’ll need to ensure you are receiving the right treatment for your illness and taking quality care of yourself. Your baby can receive a variety of antibodies from your breast milk, building up his or her defenses against diseases and illnesses.
You cannot take any medication if you breastfeed – or you must pause or end breastfeeding if a new medication is started.
While some medications should not be taken while breastfeeding, either due to side effects or their effect on milk supply, rarely, medication cannot be adjusted to be administered at a specific time, at a different dosage, or by way of an alternative. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting a medication.
Referring to the Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) can also be helpful for nursing women on the go.
Tips for Breastfeeding with a Cold
Breastfeeding with a cold is certainly challenging, but doable if you feel up to it and have discussed any contraindications with your healthcare team. Here, you’ll find some great tips on nursing your baby until you’re feeling your best.
- Stay hydrated.
- Wash your hands well and frequently.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue and discard it right away.
- Continue to breastfeed normally (if possible) as doing so will not pose harm to your health nor is likely to harm your baby, who will receive antibodies to protect them from the illness/infection. If you have a supply running wild in the freezer, now may be a good time to dig into it if need be. Having a bottle warmer like this on hand can help to quickly thaw your milk, bringing it to body temperature, which your baby may be accustomed to.
- Check the ingredients on the medications you are taking to ensure you are not doubling the dose of certain ingredients and are within safety guidelines.
- Products containing Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and Acetaminophen (Tylenol) are generally considered safe to treat headaches, fever, or sore throat.
- Continue to protect your baby from as many germs as possible (especially in the newborn stage) by limiting close face-to-face contact. If able, consider wearing a mask while breastfeeding to avoid droplets from sneezing or coughing going directly into your baby’s face. This can offer more protection against developing serious health problems caused by respiratory viruses as well as RSV and coronavirus.
- If concerned about being in close contact with your baby, consider pumping your breast milk and having someone close to you administer the milk through a bottle. Supplementing may also be an option.
Reach out to your healthcare provider right away if you notice your baby has any flu-like symptoms, even if you need to make a call for peace of mind that you are responding correctly.
What Nursing Moms Should Avoid
- Avoid oral decongestants that are likely to reduce milk supply, such as pseudoephedrine. (Individual ingredients of such medications will also need to be checked to determine if safe while breastfeeding).
- OTC medications such as Naproxen (Aleve) and Aspirin (Ecotrin, Bayer Aspirin) should be discussed with your doctor as high doses can produce more concerning side effects for babies. High doses of aspirin have been linked to a rare, but serious condition known as Reyes Syndrome—a condition that can cause swelling in the liver and brain.
- According to the CDC, avoid breastfeeding or feeding expressed milk if an infant is diagnosed with Galactosemia (a rare genetic metabolic disorder), or a mother is diagnosed with HIV, T-cell Lymphotropic type I or type II, is using an illicit street drug, (such as PCP or cocaine, with an exception to women enrolled in a methadone program who are negative for HIV and other illicit drugs) or has suspected or confirmed Ebola virus disease.
Note - Physicians should always make individualized assessments of their patients to determine if breast milk is safe for consumption.
Both breastfeeding and feeding expressed milk may need to be temporarily paused if a mother is:
- Infected with Brucellosis
- Taking certain medications
- Undergoing diagnostic imaging with radiopharmaceuticals
- Has an active herpes simplex virus (HSV) with lesions present on the breast (Mothers can breastfeed from the unaffected breast if the lesions on the affected breast are covered to avoid transmission of the virus).
Breastfeeding should be temporarily paused but expressed breast milk CAN be given if:
- Mother has untreated/active Tuberculosis.
- Mother has active chickenpox infection that developed within 5 days before delivery to 2 days after delivery.
Whether breastfeeding, pumping or taking a pause in your nursery journey, you may run into clogged ducts or even mastitis (we hope not), but having products in your arms-reach like a breast lactation massager can be a serious relief in those uncomfortable moments—even helping to increase your let-down!
We love these lactation massagers as they have two modes of warming and six intensities for each mode.
Feeding a baby is not always a straightforward process—no matter if breastfeeding, pumping, supplementing, or all of the above—especially when coping with a nasty cold. It’s humbling when you find yourself wrapped up in your coziest pair of pajamas, hair thrown into a messy bun, unsure when you last showered, still receiving the purest kind of love from your baby. The gift of motherhood is like no other—even there are days you feel like throwing in the towel. With increased education and awareness about breastfeeding, pumping, supplementing, and formula-feeding (before and after delivery), women can feel more empowered about how they choose to nourish their babies during all stages of motherhood—in times of sickness and in health!