Breastfeeding

Sick and breastfeeding? Here’s (almost) all the advice worth knowing

Emma Harpham, Editor  |  19 Jan 2024


At the time of writing, we’re well and truly in ‘sick season’ at the TRB office. Winter or not, however, if you’re a breastfeeding or pumping mama, you’ll probably come down with a cold or flu bug at some point.

We know that juggling between soothing a sniffly baby and combating your own cold can feel like a feat – and that comforting, straightforward advice can go a long way when you’re in the thick of it all!

So, we’ve put together a quick, all-in-one guide for you to bookmark for when you’re sick and breastfeeding, including;  

  • Can I breastfeed while sick?
  • What about breastfeeding with COVID-19?
  • Will my baby catch a cold from breastfeeding?
  • Should I avoid taking medication?
  • Does being sick affect my milk supply?
  • And more

Let’s get into it!

Can I breastfeed while sick?

The short answer – yes! In fact, continuing to breastfeed while sick lets you pass those key protective antibodies on to your little one. 

This is a cornerstone of building up their immune system, and giving them a head start at fighting off any infection.

So, really, the benefits of breastfeeding or pumping generally outweigh the risks, if you’re battling a cold or flu bug.

Can a baby catch a cold from breastfeeding?

Nope – cold and flu viruses do not pass from mother to baby through breast milk. 

And although more research is needed, current evidence from the CDC in the US suggests that COVID-19 does not spread through breast milk, either. 

The most likely scenario is that, by the time you start to see your symptoms develop, your baby has already been exposed to your germs. So, keeping them fed with your breast milk is the best way to combat passing on any sniffles.

So, what should we know about breastfeeding with COVID? 

The NHS tells us that if you think you have COVID-19, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before touching your baby. Plus, avoid coughing or sneezing on them while they feed, if you can.

As always, do book in to discuss the risks and benefits with your family and your maternity team, for extra peace of mind.

sick and breastfeeding tips and advice

What cold medicine can I take while breastfeeding?

Getting sick can be stressful. And the stress compounds when you find yourself concerned about the prospect of taking cold and flu medicine while breastfeeding.

The good news is that numerous cold and flu remedies are compatible with breastfeeding, typically deemed safe for both you and your little one who relies on your breast milk.

Fever and pain medications

It’s okay to have paracetamol and most antibiotics while breastfeeding. Be sure to stick to the recommended dosage. 

Always check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before taking ibuprofen, or any other ‘heavier duty’ prescription painkillers like codeine

Antihistamines

Antihistamines can help with sinus congestion and allergies, and breastfeeding mamas are recommended to look for cetirizine, loratadine or fexofenadine for relief.

This is because they make you feel less drowsy – Benadryl, for example, is considered more sedating and should be avoided while breastfeeding.

Other decongestion medications

Certain treatments for colds, flu, and coughs may include decongestants or expectorants.

They may have the potential to impact your milk supply. Be cautious of products containing the following ingredients:

  • Phenylephrine
  • Phenylpropanolamine
  • Guaifenesin

Ask your pharmacist for alternatives that exclude these ingredients.

can i breastfeed while sick

What if my baby is sick too?

When your baby is sick or coldy, your breast milk provides essential nutrients and antibodies to support their recovery. 

Amazingly, the composition of your breast milk actually changes when your little one is sick, with the number of immune-boosting cells called leukocytes rising rapidly when your baby is unwell.

The familiarity of breastfeeding can also soothe and comfort your sick baby. 

Keep in mind that if your baby has a cold, a stuffy nose may make it harder for them to feed. To make things easier, you could try: 

  • Feeding more often, but for shorter periods
  • Changing position so that you’re feeding upright
  • Pumping or expressing milk to feed from a syringe or cup

When to seek medical advice

Reach out for medical advice if there’s a real difficulty with feeding, your baby has a persistent fever, or is showing signs of dehydration.

We don’t need to tell you to trust your instincts as a parent – if something feels concerning, book in with your healthcare provider, lactation consultant, or maternity team.

Does being sick affect breast milk supply?

Catching a cold, flu or virus isn’t thought to affect milk supply in itself.

But along with the medications listed above, the stress of illness that so many mamas experience (we feel you!), combined with potential dehydration, can sometimes impact milk production in the short term.

Decreased appetite and disrupted sleep patterns can contribute to the perception of a dip in milk supply, too.

So, what can we do, to keep our supply topped up, and make sure we’re feeling comfortable, when we’re sick and breastfeeding?

sick and breastfeeding pointers

5 tips for when you’re sick and breastfeeding

Taking care of yourself is crucial for both you and your little one. Here are our fave tips for taking care of you. 

  • Prioritize your wellbeing. Rest, and stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids (herbal teas and water are good choices) to help flush out toxins and maintain your milk supply. Delegate tasks, if you can, and focus on getting the rest you need.
  • Listen to your body. If a certain position feels uncomfortable, explore different options to find one that minimizes discomfort. If you’re not feeling up to extended sessions, more frequent, shorter feeds can help. If you’re feeling unwell, make sure you do not fall asleep holding your baby though.
  • Create a comfortable breastfeeding space. Use extra pillows for support and have a warm blanket within reach to keep you comfortable during feeding sessions. Consider using a humidifier in the room to ease congestion and help you breathe more easily.
  • Step up your supplements. Opt for breastfeeding-safe supplements to support your breastfeeding and immunity. Our Senior Editor’s breastfeeding vitamin and complex of choice has been Wild Nutrition’s Food-Grown® Breastfeeding Support supplement – check out their whole range of Pregnancy and New Mother support here.
  • Nourish your body. Focus on a balanced diet rich in immune-boosting nutrients. Include foods like chicken soup, fruits, vegetables. If your appetite is low, try incorporating little but often easy-to-digest snacks throughout your day.

Looking for more resources?

For more on breastfeeding nutrition and supplements – Peep our write-up of Senior TRB Editor Jessie Day’s early breastfeeding journey, here

For essential self care tips for breastfeeding moms – Snag these three tips from Julie Morris, life and career coach, here.

Feeling worried about medications, or symptoms in your baby? Always make sure to book in with your healthcare provider for personalized advice.

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