Should a Sick Mom Stop Breastfeeding?

By Sharon Perkins
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When you feel just awful, the last thing you want to do is make your baby sick too. If you're nursing, it might seem better to feed your baby a bottle -- from a distance -- than to nuzzle him close for breastfeeding. You might also worry about transmitting your sickness through your breast milk. In most cases, though, it's not necessary or beneficial to relegate yourself to another room or stop nursing when you're sick, depending on the type of illness you have. Talk to your doctor about breastfeeding when you're sick.

Viral and Bacterial Illnesses

For run-of-the-mill viruses, such as colds or minor infections such as bronchitis, ear infections or strep, you don't need to stop breastfeeding. As you develop antibodies to these germs, they'll pass through your breast milk to your baby. This means that your baby might be the only family member not to get sick or, if he does, he might have a lighter case than everyone else. If you're suffering from diarrhea or vomiting, you can become dehydrated, which might affect your milk supply. Drink enough to stay hydrated; watch yourself for signs of dehydration such as dry mouth or lips, dry, hot skin, skin that stays tented when you pinch it or a decrease in urine output.

Breast Infections

If you develop a breast infection such as mastitis, it might seem prudent to stop nursing immediately. But this is not only unnecessary in most cases, it can also worsen the infection and make you sicker. If you stop nursing abruptly, you have a higher risk of developing a breast abscess, pediatrician and author Dr. William Sears warns. The infection won't enter your breast milk, Net Doctor reports. If if hurts to nurse, starting on the unaffected side first and then switching after let-down occurs can help. Antibiotics such as cloxacillins and cephalosporins, along with erythromycin or Augmentin, are safe for breastfeeding and treat the staphylococcus bacteria often responsible for the infection.


When your bathroom counter looks like a pharmacy from all the medications you're taking to combat the flu or other illness, you might worry about the medication effects, especially when they say to keep away from children. If you need an over-the-counter fever or pain reliever, choose ibuprofen if it works for you, since only a small amount passes through the breast milk, according to lactation consultant Anne Smith. Acetaminophen is also acceptable. Avoid aspirin and combination medications that contain aspirin; aspirin can increase the risk of Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal disorder, in infants. For cold symptoms, pseudoephedrine appears safe but could decrease your milk supply. For cough, avoid medications that contain more than 20 percent alcohol, Smith warns.

When to Stop

In rare cases, it's safer for your baby if you stop nursing while sick. If you find out you have human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, or if you take antiretroviral medication because you have the virus, it's safer not to nurse your baby, the website recommends. Active tuberculosis is also a reason to stop nursing. Taking chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment can also preclude breastfeeding. If you're undergoing radiation you may need to stop breastfeeding temporarily. Herpes infections can also present problems if the lesions occur near your breast. Talk to your doctor if you have a serious acute or chronic illness about how your disorder will affect breastfeeding and how to wean, if necessary.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.