One of the big questions that comes up this time of year:
If I nurse my baby while I’m sick with a cold or flu, will my baby get sick too?
The answer is simple: nursing through the cold or flu is the best protection for your baby.
Human milk is full of active immune properties like white blood cells, proteins, fatty acids, and antibodies that protect your baby from illness. In fact, during your period of illness, your body begins making special antibodies to protect your baby against your cold. Every time your baby latches to the breast, the two of you exchange biochemical signals that tell your body what subtle changes to make in the milk. Breasts are smart.
If your baby does catch your cold, it’s not from the milk. The two of you probably picked up the virus days before from a play group, shopping cart, door knob, or other public place. Nursing moms often feel sick long before their nurslings show any symptoms because the breasts go right to work making antibodies. Breastfed babies tend to have less severe symptoms than their bottle fed counterparts and recover more quickly.
Nothing is more heartbreaking than a sick child. Breast milk is the best medicine for most colds and flues. Unless directed by your doctor, most babies under 6 months do not need any additional fluids or supplements to recover from a cold or flu- just breast milk. Human milk is considered a “clear fluid.” It is not a “dairy” product and should be continued while mom and baby fight the cold. Some “medicinal” uses for breast milk include:
– Squirt a few drops up a stuffy nose to loosen mucous before using a nasal aspirator
– Squirt milk into dry, itchy, or irritated eyes as a soothing salve and to break up discharge
– Squirt milk over skin rash or chapped areas to speed healing
If your symptoms seem like too much to handle, use caution when taking over the counter remedies. Many of the common cold medicines like pseudoephedrine are not recommended for breastfeeding mothers because they are shown to cause a decrease in milk supply. Contact your health care provider for recommendations on what is safe to take to stave off cold and flu symptoms. The LactMed Database and Dr. Hale’s Infant Risk Center are great free resources for checking the safety of your medications while nursing.