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I'm sick, can I breastfeed? 5 things to know if you're breastfeeding and ill

I'm sick, can I breastfeed? With the onset of winter, germs multiply and it's not uncommon to get sick. I asked myself this question recently, when almost everyone in the family came down with some kind of gastro. After vomiting and being confined to bed for 24 hours, I wondered what was the best thing to do for my baby, who had no symptoms whatsoever. Could I contaminate him? Does my milk go bad when I'm sick? 

I asked Google, as well as a gynecologist, my GP and a midwife. Here's what I came up with and some useful advice if you're ill and breastfeeding. 


1. I have gastroenteritis, Covid, the flu - can I breastfeed?

Good news! There's no need to stop breastfeeding for all common illnesses. On the contrary, it's recommended to continue. 

The main reason for this is that, when the mother fights off an illness, her body produces antibodies which she passes on to her baby through breast milk, thus reinforcing the child's protection against infection. In short, thanks to breast milk, it's highly likely that the baby will be protected from the disease in question, or if it does contract the disease, it will be in a moderate form with milder symptoms. As for Covid, which is a recent disease, the WHO also recommends continued breastfeeding. According to the World Health Organization, there are no contraindications to continued breastfeeding if infected with COVID. "There is no need to interrupt breastfeeding during COVID-19 infection, nor after the mother has been vaccinated. According to a limited number of studies carried out to date, the virus that causes COVID-19 has not been detected in breast milk".

Here are the precautions to take:

- Wear a mask 

- Wash your hands with soap and water or a hydroalcoholic solution before and after each contact with your baby.

- Clean and disinfect affected surfaces

Contrary to popular misconceptions, it is not necessary to wash the breasts before or after feeding.  


2. Does the virus pass into the milk?

Here again, the good news: there's no evidence to suggest that influenza can spread through breast milk. through breast milk. Its mode of transmission is primarily airborne. When it comes to person-to-person transmission of the flu, the virus is spread primarily by droplets of saliva, commonly known as "sputum".

The same applies to most other common viruses, such as colds, strep throat and bronchitis.

So if people ask you or look at you suspiciously, you can explain (or ignore!) that your milk is not contaminated.  

Note: there are certain viruses that pass into milk. These include hepatitis B and C viruses, HIV and certain bacteria such as staphylococcus and streptococcus. 


3. Why you shouldn't stop breastfeeding if you're ill

You might be wondering whether it's easier to stop breastfeeding temporarily, until things get better. However, abruptly stopping breastfeeding is strongly discouraged and not at all a good idea. First of all, it's emotionally damaging for both mother and child, neither of whom are prepared for a sudden end to breastfeeding, and may not take it well.

What's more, there are significant health risks for the mother if she stops breastfeeding all of a sudden: as her breasts will no longer be drained, she runs a high risk of engorgement, or mastitis, which is painful and would add problems to problems. 

Finally, if the baby is exposed to your illness, which is the case since he or she is close to you, the best thing to do is to give him or her your milk to stimulate the immune system. 


To find out more about the different illnesses and how to adapt to breastfeeding, you can read the recommendations recommendations.


4. What precautions should I take if I'm ill and breastfeeding?

Of course, it's important to take a few precautions to avoid transmitting the disease to your baby. 

For example, avoid kissing him or holding him too close to your face to minimize the risk of transmission. 

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and avoid salivary contact with your baby. Let's cut down on the kissing until you're feeling better! 

If you need it, a doctor can prescribe drugs that are compatible with breast-feeding. Most are, but it's important to tell your doctor that you're breast-feeding. If you have any doubts about a medication, you can check on the CRATwebsite, which provides information on the risks of drugs during pregnancy and breastfeeding.


It's important to note that when a mother has a fever, she may tend to reduce her food and fluid intake, which can lead to a temporary drop in milk production. Stay hydrated and, if necessary, consider breast-feeding herbal teas if you notice a drop in lactation. 


5. Benefits of breastfeeding for the baby in the event of illness

In the specific case of gastroenteritis, several studies have shown that breastfeeding considerably reduces the risk of contracting it in babies under 6 months of age. 

For example, a study has shown that the risk of diarrhea in 2-month-olds is multiplied by 3 when they are fed industrial milks (1) . This is just one of the reasons why breastfeeding is recommended until at least 6 months. Find out more about the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers in this article


In conclusion, you can continue to breastfeed when you're ill, because the risk to your child is low and the benefits of continuing to breastfeed far outweigh the risks of stopping. 


(1) López-Alarcón M et al, Breast-feeding lowers the frequency and duration of acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea in infants under six months of age, DF Nutr 1997 ; 127(3) : 436-43.

I'm sick, can I breastfeed? 5 things to know if you're breastfeeding and ill
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