Breastfeeding During Illness

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 3 minutes

What to know about breastfeeding while you are sick

  • Breastfeeding during illness is usually safe and helps provide antibodies and other immune functions to baby9

  • Many medications are compatible with breastfeeding

  • Learn when it is not advisable to continue breastfeeding

It is usually safe to continue breastfeeding if you become sick with a common illness such as a cold, flu, mastitis, stomach virus, COVID-19, or food poisoning.1,2,3 This article will provide more information on breastfeeding while sick, but always speak with your doctor if you are unsure if continuing to breastfeed is safe.

When you’re sick, your body makes antibodies to fight off the infection. Continuing to breastfeed delivers these antibodies and other immune factors to your baby, providing some protection and help fighting off infection.2,3,9

When should I stop breastfeeding?

Always consult with your healthcare provider. For certain serious illnesses, breastfeeding is usually not recommended.1,3 These include (but are not limited to) HIV, AIDS, antiretroviral medications, untreated or active tuberculosis, untreated brucellosis, human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II, and some types of chemotherapy.1,3

You should also stop nursing until you consult with your healthcare provider if you have a herpes lesion or syphilitic lesion on the breast or nipple, or if you have a draining abscess. However, usually breastfeeding can continue on the non-affected side.1,3

If you are ill, always check with your health care provider to determine if breastfeeding your infant is safe. If your healthcare provider is unsure, there are additional resources to help make this decision in the Tips section below.

Are you not feeling well and wondering what to do next? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am - 6pm (ET), and Saturday – Sunday 8am - 2pm (ET). Chat Now!

Will being sick affect my breastmilk supply?

For some women, milk supply can drop during an illness due to the stress on your body.4,5 Supply usually returns once you get better, especially if you continue to nurse on demand or pump frequently.1

If your little one begins to make less diapers than normal and seems excessively hungry, provide breastmilk or formula in a bottle in addition to breastfeeding.11 This will ensure they are meeting their nutrition and fluid needs. Always pump anytime you provide a bottle to help your body know it needs to make more milk.12

Read about protecting your breastmilk supply:

Dealing with a Low Breastmilk Supply

Breastfeeding: How to Support a Good Breastmilk Supply

Medications and Breastfeeding

Always speak to your doctor before taking any medications (both prescription and over the counter) to find out if they are compatible with nursing.

Even though many medications are safe to take while nursing, especially if for a short time, always check with your health care provider to ensure its safety before taking.6 Also be aware that some medications can decrease your breastmilk supply.7

There are many resources to help breastfeeding moms with medication questions, including our expert chat, Infant Risk Center, e-lactancia, and MotherToBaby. See the Tips section for more details.

Tips for breastfeeding while sick

Continue to nurse as frequently as usual while sick with a common illness

If you’re feeling weak or lethargic, try nursing in a side lying or laid-back position, especially if holding your baby is difficult due to fatigue.

If you are hospitalized and separated from your baby, use your breast pump to continue supplying milk to your baby and to help maintain your milk supply. Get help from hospital staff, asking your family support system to advocate for you if necessary.6

Read more:

Top Tips for Breast Pumping

6 Breastfeeding Positions for you and your Baby

Practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of illness in your home

Wash your hands regularly, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with a tissue or the crook of your elbow, and never touch anything that will be going into your baby’s mouth to help prevent your little one from getting sick.1,3 If you have COVID, the Centers for Disease Control recommends wearing a well-fitting mask while you’re symptomatic and are around your baby.1,3

As difficult as it may be to not give your little one some snuggles, try not to kiss baby’s hands or face while you are sick to help prevent the spread of the virus or bacteria.

Take good care of yourself when you’re sick

If you are able, get some help for a few days until you start to feel better. It’s important to keep yourself hydrated, especially if you’re running a fever or have been experiencing vomiting or diarrhea.8,10 And it is important to eat healthfully while sick (to the extent you are able); you want to provide your body with lots of natural vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help support your immune system.

If you’re able, try to eat fruits and vegetables every day, along with protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. Try this: if you aren’t feeling up to raw veggies, try soup; whole fruit not sounding good? Try a smoothie.

Read more:

Tips for Staying Hydrated while Pregnant and Breastfeeding

Meal and Hydration Plan for Supporting Milk Supply

Check all medications and supplements before you take them

If your doctor prescribes any medications (or you pick up any over-the-counter meds) be sure to ask if they are compatible with nursing. If not, it’s likely you can switch to a medication that’s safe for you and your baby.

For more information on medications, there are a lot of great resources:

  • The Infant Risk Center has an app, hotline, forum, and information sheets about medications and breastfeeding.

  • MotherToBaby has a chat, information sheets, text line, hotline, and local offices to help with breastfeeding/pregnancy and medications and other substances.

  • LactMed is a free resource from the National Institutes of Health

  • E-lactancia is another free resource that gives evidence-based information in Spanish and English

  • Our expert chat can also help you navigate medication and breastfeeding questions and find the best resources and information for your scenario.

Let's Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too! They’re here to offer personalized support on our free, one-on-one, live chat platform Mon-Fri 8am-6pm (ET), and Sat-Sun 8am-2pm (ET). No appointment needed, no email or sign-up required. Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Tips for Staying Hydrated while Pregnant and Breastfeeding

Probiotics 101

6 Tips to help Manage Prenatal and Postpartum Constipation

Can I have Caffeine while Pregnant or Breastfeeding?

How Much should I Eat while Breastfeeding?