Can you breastfeed with the flu?

With the flu season in full swing, including the swine flu, you may be wondering how safe it is for you to feed and care for your baby if you get sick. First, you should know it’s important that you get a flu shot to protect yourself against this disease.

When you’re breastfeeding, it’s safe for you to get either the shot or the nasal spray vaccine. If you’re concerned about the preservative thimerosal in flu shots, ask for a thimerosal-free vaccine. This year it’s especially important that you also get the H1N1 vaccine, particularly if you’re still pregnant when you’re reading this article.

The flu isn’t the only infectious disease you need to try to prevent. The CDC notes that all vaccines, except the smallpox vaccine, are safe while breastfeeding. Vaccines can provide some protection to your baby because they’re designed to protect against bacterial infections that may pass though breast milk.

Feeding with the flu

Even if you get the flu, in most cases it’s best to continue breastfeeding because your baby will gain protection from antibodies in your breast milk. In fact, with most viral infections, such as colds, sore throats, and stomach viruses, you are infectious but starting to produce antibodies before you have any symptoms. So if you don’t interrupt breastfeeding, your baby gets protection both before you knew you were sick and throughout your illness. And don’t worry; these common viruses are not passed to your baby through your milk.

If you aren’t up to nursing your baby for a feeding or two, have your partner or a friend feed your baby a bottle of your pumped breast milk. Check with your healthcare provider to see what medications you can take for your symptoms, as many over-the-counter cold and flu remedies are safe during breastfeeding.

Maintain your milk supply by nursing or pumping regularly during your illness. If you don’t, your breasts can become hard and engorged and lead to mastitis, a painful breast infection. Cold medicine can be drying, so drink extra fluids to keep up your milk supply.

What if baby gets sick?

Breastfeeding is all the more important to continue if your baby is sick. In fact, you will need to breastfeed more often so your baby can get the fluids and nutrients he/she needs to replace those lost due to illness. Breastfeeding, always comforting to your baby, is even more so when he or she is sick. If your baby has a cold, nursing him or her in an upright position may be helpful. Of course, you should talk to your baby’s health care provider when your baby is ill if you have questions, especially if he or she has a fever, diarrhea, is vomiting or won’t breastfeed.

Make sure that you take extra care to wash your hands well (ideally, for the length of time it takes to recite the “ABCs” in your head) when any family member is ill. Oh, and one more thing – don’t forget to get the rest of your family vaccinated so they don’t bring the flu home and increase the risk of you or the baby getting it.

Flu-Free and a Mom-to-Be

The “Flu-Free and a Mom-to-Be” campaign is a joint initiative of HealthyWomen and the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses. The campaign is supported by CSL Biotherapies. Click here for more information on the campaign.


Catherine Ruhl, DNP, CNM is editor of Healthy Mom&Baby and a certified nurse-midwife in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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