The Complete Guide to Breastfeeding When Sick

This article is a complete guide to breastfeeding while sick.

The Complete Guide to Breastfeeding When Sick

Are you sick for the first time with your new baby and suddenly feeling like you have a million questions and don’t know where to start? Read on, mama. This is your guide to breastfeeding when sick. I want you to have all the info you need to get through this cold season and beyond. This year is already kicking off and is a doozy. Let me help you prepare!

Let's start off with the basics…

Should you breastfeed while sick

YES!! In all shouty caps! Whether you have a cold/flu, fever, stomach bug, or mastitis, YOU CAN CONTINUE TO BREASTFEED. There are very few illnesses and/or medications that require you to stop nursing. Unfortunately, what you may encounter are medical providers who do not have a great base of knowledge on what is okay to take while breastfeeding and how best to approach illness and breastfeeding. I am here to help! 

The Benefits of Continued Breastfeeding During Illness

Benefits?? Yep, you read that right. There are a plethora of benefits to continuing to breastfeed while you are sick. First up, the big one, breastfeeding your baby while you are sick gives them a boost of antibodies for the infection your body is fighting and is protective! 

One of the best choices you can make while sick is to CONTINUE to breastfeed! It is that simple and crazy complex rolled into one. Our bodies make specific antibodies for our infants based on the illness we are currently fighting. Your baby’s saliva on your breast tissue can also stimulate an immune response in YOUR body and help create the antibodies they need. 

Are medications safe to take when you are breastfeeding?

One of the most frequent questions I field from parents who are sick is whether they can take any medications to help ease their symptoms. 

Tell me if this sounds like you…

Your symptoms have gotten worse and you are now at the doc for more help.

You are confused about what you can take and; unfortunately, your provider also seems confused. Yikes. What your provider may not be aware of or maybe misinformed about is that there are medications that are safe to take when breastfeeding and a few simple tools call help you find out. 

How can you search for medication safety when breastfeeding? 

There are two websites that provide a ton of info free, that are research-based, and can help you and your providers make an informed decision.

  1. The NIH hosts LactMed, a drug and lactation database with info sheets on medications and their safety.
  2. InfantRisk Center "is a worldwide call center presently in the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics." The call center is used by physicians, nurses, lactation consultants, and parents to make informed decisions on the safety of a given medication or several medications. The call center is open Monday-Friday 8 am-5 pm CST. If you find your health provider is unsure about safety, giving them the info from LactMed and InfantRisk can help them become more informed and make the best decision for your individual needs. 

How to use Google to search for medication safety when breastfeeding?

This is one time Google is going to come in handy and not lead to a spiral! 

Search phrase: "Medication name" infant risk forum

There is also an app for parents called MommyMeds. It is available on both iPhone and Android devices. You can scan the barcode of OTC medications and look up prescription medications. It is that easy! 

Want more of a breakdown of safety classifications?

Dr. Hale, the king of the intersection of lactation and medications for 25+ years, outlines 5 levels of safety for medications. It can be helpful to be familiar with the levels when you are looking up information to help you better understand and navigate your choices. 

  • L1 Safest: Extensive evidence demonstrating no adverse effects on the infant
  • L2 Safer: Limited evidence without an increase in adverse effects on the infant
  • L3 Probably Safe: No studies, but expert opinion suggests safety. Risk to the infant is possible, and further evaluation must be taken to consider individual situations.
  • L4 Possibly Hazardous: Positive evidence or expert opinion of risk to the infant or milk production.
  • L5 Hazardous: Significant and documented risk to the infant. 

Common medications that are safe

Let’s go over a quick rundown. Below are common medications that have an L1/L2 rating. As a reminder, even medications with an L3 rating are probably safe and decisions should be made with your physician taking into account all factors. 

  • Tylenol/Ibuprofen: L1
  • Cough drops: limit menthol
  • Benzocaine sore throat spray: L1
  • Afrin Nasal Spray: L3: Limit to 3 days 
  • Rhinocort nasal spray: L1
  • Flonase/Nasonex/Nasocort: L3
  • Robitussin: L3
  • Tamiflu: Probably safe and compatible with breastfeeding.

Click here for more common medications from InfantRisk.

At-home remedies and care to protect your supply:

  1. Hydrate! Keeping up with fluids, even if you don't have a huge appetite can help keep your supply up. Broth, electrolyte mixes, and soups can be a great way to hydrate beyond water. While nutrition and trying to consume as varied a diet as possible, hydration is the real key to keeping up your supply! 
  2. Nursing on demand: when you are sick, this is more important than ever! Nursing on demand will help your body stay on track. The same goes for pumping. Try as much as you can to stay on your pumping schedule. 
  3. Problem: Shoot…you and/or your baby are off your schedule big time. You were so sick and tired that you missed a session or two. Fix: Take a deep breath! With an established supply, getting back on track can be as simple as resuming your normal routine and schedule. You may find that your baby nurses longer at the breast as your supply rebounds. 
  4. Prioritizing rest. Choosing rest and recovery is not only key to your recovery, but can protect your supply. This is not always feasible for parents! Quality over quantity can be helpful with this one.

**Note is common to experience a temporary dip in supply with illness. Keep an eye on hydration, protein consumption, and healthy fats to help your body rebound faster. If you are finding that your supply has still not rebounded after you are feeling better, it can be helpful to reach out to an IBCLC to get more specific advice for your unique situation. 

Need More Help?

For more support navigating breastfeeding challenges like breastfeeding when sick, and every other breastfeeding topic under the sun, check out boob school. Beyond the self-paced modules, and 10+ bonuses, we have a private Facebook group for questions and weekly support calls to ask your one-on-one questions to an experienced lactation expert. Join us to get the support, knowledge, and empowerment you deserve today! 



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