Chickenpox is a virus affecting the skin and mucous membranes, which causes itching and blisters on the skin that can erupt and spread when scratched. Many mothers may wonder whether breastfeeding and chickenpox can mix in any way or whether there are contraindications they need to know about. Breastfeeding a baby with chickenpox in the home can seem worrisome, yet it can actually confer benefits for both mom and baby in most cases.
Breastfeeding a baby when the mother has had either the wild chickenpox virus or the vaccine does pass immunity to the infant. While the amount of immunity may be less than is created with a vaccine, the baby receives and benefits from the mother's already developed immunities while breastfeeding and is less likely to get chickenpox when exposed. In addition to actual immunities, the baby's immune system is further protected with nutrients and healthy fatty acids present in breast milk.
If someone in the family is exposed to chickenpox, the incubation period is between seven and 21 days. During this time it is advisable to keep the breastfeeding infant away from the exposed person as much as possible. A mother who has been exposed does not need to quarantine herself since it is likely the baby has already been in contact, and continued breastfeeding will help keep the baby healthy. After scabs have healed and the family member is determined healthy to be around people again, it is fine to have him around the baby as well.
If the mother experiences chickenpox or shingles while breastfeeding, she will be passing along the immunities her body develops. In the event sores or blisters are present on the nipple the mother may need to pump her milk from the affected breast until the sore heals to prevent nipple-to-mouth transmission and to allow her nipple to heal. Seeking professional assistance from a board-certified lactation consultant, breastfeeding peer counsellor or La Leche League Leader can provide the information and support a mom needs to continue breastfeeding safely.
Chickenpox or varicella vaccine is available to mothers and infants. The vaccine creates some immunity for the person receiving it and is considered relatively safe to be given while a mother is breastfeeding. While no vaccine is 100 per cent effective, medical professionals recommend this vaccine to all healthy people of the appropriate age. Alternatives to vaccination can be found through naturopathic or homeopathic health care professionals.
If a mother has concerns about breastfeeding and chickenpox, she can contact her family health care professional or breastfeeding specialist. Some health care professionals may have limited information, but organisations such as La Leche League International can provide information, support and often connect the mother with other members of her community who can help her.