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Nursing through Common Maternal Illness

There are very few illnesses that might warrant a need for a mother to stop breastfeeding her baby. For most common as well as uncommon maternal illnesses, it is recommended to continue nursing through them. Ordinary and common illnesses like the common cold, cough, flu, stomach upset, fever, sore throat, mastitis do not require a mother to stop breastfeeding. In fact, breastfeeding through the illness will prove beneficial for the baby.

Benefits of Breastfeeding through Common Maternal Illnesses:

A very important thing to consider is that in most cases of contagious viral and bacterial infections, the mother is already infected and is infectious before developing any symptoms. During this period, it is very likely that the baby is already exposed and has contracted the infection from the mother. However, it is important to note that this transmission happens due to the close contact between the mother and the baby and not because of breastfeeding.

Once the infection is registered by the mother’s body, her immune system responds to it and that’s when she gets the symptoms. Next, her body produces antibodies. These antibodies are used to fight off the infection. The fascinating thing here, is that these antibodies can be passed onto the baby via the mother’s breast milk, which can give protection to the baby against the illness. This protection may prevent the baby from falling ill altogether. And even if she does fall ill, she might not be as ill as her mother. On the contrary, if the mother stops breastfeeding at this stage, her baby does not get the benefits of her antibodies. Thus, it is recommended that the mother must continue to breastfeed her baby through her illnesses.

What happens when a mother

continues breastfeeding

during her illness?

What happens when a mother

stops breastfeeding

during her illness?

The antibodies that are created by the mother’s body to fight off the infection are passed on to the baby via her breast milk.

The antibodies have no way to be passed on to the baby.

With the help of the antibodies, the baby gets protection against the illness and may not fall ill at all.

Baby does not get any protection against the illness.

Even if the baby falls ill, the antibodies received from the mother’s milk help in restricting the illness to a mild form.

Since the baby has no protection and since babies’ immunity is still not developed enough to fight the infection on its own, the baby might develop a severe form of the illness.

Other Precautions to Take:

While breastfeeding through common illnesses, a mother must follow general hygiene practices and guidelines. Following things help –

  • Washing hands before handling/touching/feeding the baby.
  • Limiting face to face contact.
  • Avoid kissing the baby.
  • Avoid coughing/sneezing on or around the baby.
  • Wearing a mask while nursing the baby (as there is constant physical proximity for a long time while breastfeeding).

Maternal Care while Breastfeeding through an Illness:

The mother may require more support in caring for the baby while she herself is ill. Breastfeeding while recovering from an illness can be tiring and overwhelming. Following things are important in such times.

  • Mother should rest whenever possible. Spouse/partner or other family members can help care for the baby while the mother rests.
  • Mother should keep herself very well hydrated. Fluid consumption is very important. It helps in recovering faster and in maintaining the breast milk supply.
  • Nursing lying down helps the mother rest while breastfeeding.

Medication while Breastfeeding through an Illness:

Most common illnesses run their own course and recovery takes place only by resting and eating and drinking healthy. However, if the mother requires medication, it is imperative to ask for breastfeeding friendly or breastfeeding compatible medication. The GP can be informed and asked to prescribe medicines that are compatible with breastfeeding. Most medicines for common illnesses are breastfeeding friendly. And if some or not, there are usually always substitutes available which are breastfeeding compatible.