Breastfeeding While Sick: Should You Wean the Baby from the Breast?

a sick woman. breastfeeding while sick

Sometimes even a runny nose can make a breastfeeding woman think whether breastfeeding while sick is safe. It goes without saying that mothers worry even more if they are seriously ill and need to take medicine. In what cases is it necessary to interrupt breastfeeding while sick? In what situations will it be necessary to wean the baby for a while?

Why Can Breastfeeding While Sick be Harmful to the Baby?

There are three main reasons why a nursing mother may feel unwell: exacerbations of chronic diseases, acute viral and acute bacterial infections. The tactics of breastfeeding while sick will depend on what caused the mother’s disease.

In any case, the occurrence of contraindications to the continuation of breastfeeding is justified by the fact that in a number of diseases, pathogens or their toxins can penetrate into the blood of a mother and, accordingly, into breast milk. As a result, it may lead to the onset of the disease in the child. Another thing that may complicate breastfeeding is the need of the nursing mother to take medication during the course of her disease. Some medications can be directly contraindicated to children due to their toxicity.

What Diseases Are Incompatible with Breastfeeding?

If a nursing woman gets sick, doctors can advise her to stop breastfeeding. Depending on the type and severity of the disease, the break can be:

  • Temporary or permanent;
  • Full (when it is forbidden to use even expressed milk for feeding the baby);
  • Partial (when you can use expressed milk without restrictions but you cannot put the baby to the breast).

breastfeeding while sick. feeding the baby from the bottle

The absolute prohibition on breastfeeding (it does not matter whether the child receives milk directly from the breast or in the expressed form) is the most categorical recommendation. In pediatric practice, such situations occur relatively rarely. These include, for example, HIV infection or an open form of tuberculosis in the mother. In the case of tuberculosis, a sick woman is a source of infection for others. First of all, this infection is dangerous for the child. Treatment of tuberculosis must take place in a specialized hospital.

Not only these diseases themselves but also drugs used for their treatment make breastfeeding while sick impossible. The drugs can have a negative effect on the baby’s body.

Temporary Break in Breastfeeding While Sick

A temporary break in breastfeeding can be recommended when the process of feeding is a hard test for the mother because of her poor health. The reasons can be very different:

  • Increased blood pressure;
  • Pain of different localization;
  • Heart diseases;
  • Surgery, etc.

In such a situation, a woman may need medicines that are not compatible with breastfeeding. In this case, the mammary glands still need to be emptied by expressing. Otherwise, there is a risk of a new problem for the nursing mother – milk stagnation.

You can pump the milk with your hands or with the help of a breast pump. In either case, a woman’s poor state of health may require assistance from medical staff. Pumping should be done according to the feeding regime of the child – at least every three hours. It is also necessary at night.

breastfeeding while sick. breast pump

Doctors can advise feeding the baby temporarily with expressed milk if the mother has pathological rashes on the mammary glands: for example, herpetic (bubbles filled with liquid) or pustular (bubbles filled with pus). This recommendation concerns the situation when the nipple and areola are not affected.

It should be taken into account that more extensive rashes make it difficult to express and collect uninfected milk. It also presumes a serious treatment for the mother, during which the medications can get to the baby with the milk, which is not desirable.

Certainly, different situations require an individual approach to the problem (taking into account the severity of the disease and the treatment).

What Diseases Don’t Interfere with Breastfeeding?

It should be noted that breastfeeding or feeding the baby with expressed breast milk is possible with the majority of common, mild infections occurring in a woman.

Thus, acute respiratory infections (ARI) and cytomegalovirus infection are not grounds for transferring a child to artificial feeding.

During ARI diseases a woman should wear a disposable mask during feeding in order not to infect a baby. You can buy the mask at the pharmacy. Use a new mask for the next feeding.

breastfeeding while sick. medical masks

You can keep on breastfeeding if you have an infection of the urinary tract, toxoplasmosis, and postpartum endometritis (inflammation of the uterine mucosa). However, in these cases, drugs taken by the mother may get into the body of the child with milk. Then the temporary refusal of breastfeeding is recommended primarily not because of the disease itself but to exclude the consequences of aggressive therapy for the health of the child. If such a threat exists doctors try to prescribe nursing women a medicine that will not harm the baby. But in some cases, this is not possible.

Breastfeeding while sick is also possible with hepatitis A and B but, in the case of the latter, the baby needs to be given a prophylactic vaccination against hepatitis B immediately after birth (it is made on the first day of life). Hepatitis C is also not an absolute contraindication to breastfeeding.


Chickenpox in the mother requires an individual approach in resolving the issue of breastfeeding while sick. The most dangerous situation is when a few days before the birth or in the first days after childbirth a woman has a characteristic rash. At the same time, the mother cannot transfer the right amount of protective antibody proteins to her baby since they haven’t worked out yet. If the child is prescribed proper prophylactic treatment (specific immunoglobulin against chicken pox), then breastfeeding while sick can be permitted.


The presence of staphylococcus in breast milk is not a contraindication to breastfeeding. This microorganism lives normally on the skin and can get into the milk from the skin of the mammary glands or from the hands of the mother. Its moderate amount in the milk should not be regarded as a sign of breast inflammation, especially if there are no symptoms of mastitis (pain and redness of the breast, an increase in body temperature, etc.). The analysis of breast milk for staphylococcus without obvious cause is unreasonable.


Breastfeeding with mastitis is possible, as it improves the drainage of the affected breast thanks to the sucking process and does not harm the baby. First of all, it concerns uninfected (catarrhal) mastitis. In the case of purulent mastitis or the occurrence of abscesses in the mammary gland, the decision is made by the surgeon. In this case, breastfeeding while sick is not recommended. It is better to give the baby formula feeding for some time.

At the same time, the breast milk must be expressed. The breast pump, in this case, is preferable because of the gentle pressure on the areola.

mastitis. breastfeeding while sick

Feeding the baby with expressed milk while having mastitis depends on several factors:

  • The vastness of the lesion of the breast;
  • The quality of milk (first of all, the presence of pus in it);
  • Character (aggressiveness) of treatment of mastitis (that is, compatibility of prescribed medications with breastfeeding).

In most cases, the baby is temporarily transferred to a child’s formula. The expressed milk is not used for feeding, primarily because of the drugs used for the treatment of mastitis, which can harm the baby by getting into the milk.

After the end of treatment, the woman resumes breastfeeding. When exactly this happens depends on the speed of drugs’ withdrawal from the body. The doctor’s recommendations on this point are based on the information indicated in the annotation to the drug. On average, in 1-2 days after the end of medication, milk is considered to be safe for the child.

Breastfeeding While Sick and Mother’s Treatment

There are three groups of medicines:

  • Categorically contraindicated while breastfeeding;
  • Incompatible with breastfeeding;
  • Compatible with it.

There are special tables according to which it is possible to judge how intensive the transition of a drug from the mother’s blood into breast milk is.

Obviously, the most optimal medicine for the mother is the one that is not excreted in milk. For example, in the case of a well-known aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), the situation does not look so harmless: 60-100% of this drug passes from breast milk to the baby.

breastfeeding while sick. crying baby

You should also take into account that even with minimal probability of drug penetration into milk, the negative effect of the drug can be very serious. For example, many antibiotics get into the milk in a small amount but cause significant undesirable consequences for the child. First of all, this is a violation of the intestinal microflora.

What’s more, not all medicines give the data on their compatibility with breastfeeding. If there is no specifying information for a particular drug, then in the annotation to this drug it is often possible to read the phrase “not recommended during the period of lactation”.

As a rule, in such situations, the decision whether breastfeeding while sick is possible is made by the nursing mother and the pediatrician. If the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the potential (but unproven) harm from the possible ingestion of the drug into the baby’s body – then, a choice is in favor of breastfeeding. Of course, such cases require careful monitoring of the health of the baby by the doctors.







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