You wake up during the night and your throat is scratchy and you have a fever. Is it the flu? Your stomach is upset, you have diarrhea and you begin to realize you have a stomach virus. You are exclusively nursing your 2 month old and you wonder if you should stop breastfeeding temporarily? You may wonder: Will my baby get sick through my milk? Should I give him formula instead or at least milk from the freezer pumped a couple of weeks ago?
Actually, the answer is a resounding NO – absolutely continue to breastfeed (Note: there are rare exceptions – active TB is one of them). Protect your baby from your coughs and sneezes by covering your mouth and nose, and use careful hand washing (http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html). Your baby has already been exposed to what is making you sick before you had symptoms.
The reason it is important to continue to breastfeed is that your body is making antibodies to the particular bacteria or virus that is making you sick and those antibodies must be passed on to your baby to protect him. Formula doesn’t contain any antibodies, and frozen milk doesn’t contain antibodies against the germs you are currently sick with. In addition to the antibodies, your milk contains other defense agents including live cells, anti-inflammatory agents and other disease fighting components.
In many cases the whole family gets sick except for the breastfed baby. In some cases that the baby DOES get sick, it will probably be a milder case.
Occasionally, when mother gets sick, the milk production will decrease somewhat, but with rest, enough fluids (drink to thirst) and a little time, production will pop back up if your baby is nursing frequently.
What if your illness calls for medicine? Is that safe for your breastfed infant? In most cases, only a tiny amount of a medicine goes into the milk. However, to be sure what you want or need to take is safe you can go to http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/newtoxnet/lactmed.htm which is the website Lactmed (National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health) and you can look up the drug for information. Another source of information during normal business hours is the Infant Risk Center at Texas Tech University Medical School – 806-352-2519 or of course, call your OB or your Pediatrician.