You and your baby have settled into a breastfeeding routine when you feel the telltale aches, low-grade fever, and sore throat of a bad cold coming on. Your first instinct is to stop breastfeeding so you don’t give your baby the same cold. But do you really have anything to worry about?
No. If it’s a cold, flu, or common case of diarrhea, there is no need to stop breastfeeding. When you have a cold or flu, your nursing baby actually receives the natural antibodies your body is manufacturing to fight the illness. This helps protect your baby from that same cold or flu. Also, for most cold or flu-like illnesses, as well as most causes of common diarrhea, the contagious period actually begins a few days before your illness appears. This means your baby has already likely been exposed by the time you start feeling symptoms. This means your baby will likely receive extra protection from those immunities now being produced in your milk. There is no need to discontinue breastfeeding at this time.
What about for illnesses other than colds or flu? While very small amounts of medications like antibiotics are passed through breast milk, almost all common antibiotics have received approval from the American Academy of Pediatrics as safe to use while breastfeeding. There are important exceptions, however, and for more serious conditions, such as a mom receiving chemotherapy or moms with HIV, breastfeeding is usually stopped. It is important before taking any prescription drug to inform your doctor and the baby’s doctor that you are breastfeeding.
Other common sense guidelines, particularly during cold and flu season, are to wash your hands before breastfeeding. Nursing moms should also wash their breasts once a day with warm water.
Finally, if you have any doubts or questions, consult your baby’s pediatrician. But remember, breastfeeding is one of the most important things you can do for your baby’s health and growth, so don’t let a cold get in the way of this important beneficial and bonding activity.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, March 2020
- Don’t discontinue nursing for a simple cold or flu.
- For most colds, flus, or common causes of diarrhea, your baby will receive important antibodies in your breast milk to ward off the illness.
- By the time you start showing symptoms, your baby has likely been exposed already.
- For most common illnesses that you might take antibiotics or other medications for, you can still continue breastfeeding.