Breastfeeding, Influenza, And The Common Cold: How To Bounce Back

Its Ok for Mom to breastfeed with the common cold or influenza

Hello Mamas! I have great news! Guess what? According to the Centers for Disease Control, breast milk provides protections against many respiratory diseases, including influenza (flu). A mother with suspected or confirmed flu should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus to her infant while continuing to provide breast milk to her infant. Influenza and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. These two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms. There is no cure for the common cold.

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What Causes the Common Cold?

Though there are more than 100 viruses that can cause the common cold, the rhinovirus is the most common cause, and it’s highly contagious. The virus enters your body through your mouth, eyes or nose and can spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks. It also spreads by contact with someone who has a cold or by sharing contaminated objects, like utensils, towels, toys or telephones.

Handwashing is important in the prevention of spreading a cold. If you have not washed your hands after you touch a contaminated object and you then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you will be likely to catch a cold. (Paid link)

Symptoms of a common cold usually appear about 1-3 days after exposure and may include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy or sore throat
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Slight body aches or a mild headache
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild fatigue

Influenza (also called flu) is an acute respiratory tract illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs, causing a contagious respiratory illness. Flu can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Pregnant women and young children, among others (e.g., adults 65 years of age and older, people with certain medical conditions) are at high risk of developing flu-related complications.

Can the flu be transmitted through breast milk?

No. Flu is not spread to infants through breast milk. The flu is spread mainly from person-to-person via respiratory droplets when people cough, sneeze, or talk, or possibly, when a person touches a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touches their own mouth or nose.

Should mothers continue breastfeeding if they have flu or come in contact with someone with flu?

Yes. A mother’s breast milk contains antibodies and other immunological factors that can help protect her infant from flu and is the recommended source of nutrition for the infant, even while the mother is ill. If a mother is too sick to feed her infant at the breast and another healthy caregiver is caring for the infant, the breastfeeding mother should be encouraged and supported to regularly express her milk so that the infant continues to receive her breast milk. Prior to expressing breast milk, mothers should wash their hands well with soap and water and, if using a pump, follow recommendations for proper cleaning. Because breast milk supply could decrease for some mothers while they are ill, mothers may need additional lactation support from a lactation provider to address milk supply concerns, reduce the possibility of developing a breast infection, and support the breastfeeding relationship during this time.

Can infants who have flu continue to breastfeed?

Absolutely yes. When an infant has flu, the mother should be encouraged to continue breastfeeding or feeding expressed breast milk to her infant. Infants who are ill need fluids to stay hydrated and breast milk is the best option. Expressed breast milk can also be given from a cup, syringe, or bottle if the infant is unable to breastfeed directly at the breast.

Are there special considerations for mothers with flu in peri- and postpartum healthcare settings?

Yes. Newborns infected with influenza viruses are at increased risk for severe complications, including death. CDC has specific recommendations that apply to mothers who have flu and their newborns in the hospital setting at the time of birth. Visit Guidance for the Prevention and Control of Influenza in the Peri- and Postpartum Settings for more information.

If direct breastfeeding is interrupted due to temporary separation of mother and child, the breastfeeding mother should be encouraged and supported to regularly express her milk so that the infant continues to receive her breast milk. A breastfeeding mother with flu may need access to a hospital-grade pump and additional lactation support while in the hospital and after discharge to maintain her milk supply and reduce the possibility of developing a breast infection. Prior to expressing breast milk, mothers should wash their hands well with soap and water and, if using a pump, follow recommendations for proper cleaning. If a mother is expressing breast milk, the expressed breast milk should be fed to the infant by a healthy caregiver who does not have flu, if possible.

How can a breastfeeding mother with flu protect her infant from getting sick?

Handwashing is a safety precaution for baby

A mother with flu should take precautions to avoid spreading flu to her infant (regardless of feeding method) because infants are at high-risk of serious flu-related complications.

  • These precautions are especially important for infants younger than 6 months of age because they cannot be vaccinated against influenza viruses. Mothers with flu should thoroughly wash and dry their hands with soap and water before touching the infant or any item that the infant will touch (including during feeding) and anytime they sneeze or cough on their hands.
  • Breast milk remains the best source of nutrition for the infant, and provides protection from infections through antibodies and other immunological factors.
  • If a mother is too sick to feed her infant at the breast, if possible, expressed breast milk should be fed to the infant by a healthy caregiver who does not have flu.
  • Whenever a mother expresses her breast milk, she should wash her hands well with soap and water and, if using a pump, follow recommendations for proper cleaning.

How can caregivers prevent transmission of flu to infants?

  • Immunization of pregnant and breastfeeding women pdf icon[PDF-732KB] reduces the risk of flu to themselves and to their infants.
  • To protect infants, especially those younger than 6 months of age who cannot be vaccinated, parents, siblings, other household members aged 6 months and older, and other caregivers should also receive an annual flu vaccination (except in rare cases).
  • Everyday preventive actions such as avoiding close contact with sick persons, covering one’s nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing and throwing the tissue away immediately afterwards, practicing proper hand hygiene, and disinfecting surfaces can also help protect all infants from flu, whether they are breastfed or not.
  • Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants and provides protection from infections through antibodies and other immunological factors.
  • Infants who are breastfed are less vulnerable to infections, including severe respiratory illnesses, than infants who are not breastfed.
  • When a mother has flu, her breast milk contains antibodies that can help protect her infant from flu and breast milk remains the recommended source of nutrition for the infant, even while the mother is ill.

Is the flu vaccine safe for breastfeeding mothers and their infants?

Absolutely yes. Flu vaccination is safe for breastfeeding women and their infants aged 6 months and older. In fact, women who get the flu vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding develop antibodies against flu that they can share with their infants through their breast milk. Breastfeeding can provide some protection against flu for infants, including children younger than 6 months who cannot receive the flu vaccine. Annual flu vaccination is recommended for all persons aged 6 months and older (except in rare cases), and is particularly important for pregnant women. Additionally, to protect children younger than 6 months of age from flu, persons around the infant (e.g., caregivers and household members) should receive the flu vaccination. (Paid link).

What about influenza antiviral prescription medications safety use while mothers are breastfeeding or providing expressed breast milk to their infants?

Absolutely yes. While data on the effect of currently recommended influenza antiviral medications during breastfeeding are limited, CDC recommends that postpartum (e.g., within 2 weeks after birth) women with suspected or confirmed flu be treated with antiviral medications since they are at high risk of flu complications. For women who are breastfeeding with suspected or confirmed flu, treatment with oral oseltamivir is currently preferred. Available data indicate that oseltamivir is poorly excreted in breast milk. See Table 1. For additional information on medications and lactation, please refer to the Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed)external icon. For additional general information on flu antiviral medications for healthcare providers, please visit the Influenza (Flu) Antiviral Drugs website.

Complications of the Common Cold

Ear pain could signal an ear infection and an evaluation by a provider is recommended. The common cold can also exacerbate asthma symptoms with wheezing and difficulty breathing, which should prompt a call and/or visit to your provider. Also, if you have a fever along with sinus pain, difficulty breathing or discomfort when taking a deep breath, this could signal a secondary infection like sinusitis or pneumonia. Throat pain with white patches can be a sign of strep throat and will require a visit to your provider. If you have a high fever of more than 103 degrees, dehydration, severe fatigue and/or body aches, see a doctor immediately, especially if you are pregnant.

Recommendations For Feeling Better

When treating the common cold or influenza, it is good to treat the symptoms to help you feel better.

  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids (especially water)
  • Gargling with warm salt water
  • Using cough drops, lozenges or throat sprays
  • Watch your temperature -check every 4 hours
  • Avoid hot fluids
  • Take tepid water baths from tap for temperature above 10o degrees.
  • Wash hands frequently when needed. Avoid other members of the family. (Paid link)

In addition, here are some over-the-counter cold medications that can help: I advise that you get your doctors ok or permission to take any of them and let your doctor know that you are breastfeeding. Some cold medications can reduce your milk supply.

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol): Take for body aches and headaches, mild pain and fever. If you are pregnant then you CANNOT take ibuprofen or naproxen but these medications are safe if you are breastfeeding.
  • Pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine (Sudafed): Use for congestion and runny nose. Medications that contain pseudoephedrine are kept behind the pharmacy counter and have restrictions on the quantity that you can purchase. You must show ID to prove you are older than 18.
  • Guaifenesin (Mucinex) or dextromethorphan (Robutussin): This medicine suppresses coughing and thins mucus so that coughs are more productive
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Loratidine (Claritin): Can relieve watery eyes and itchy throat. These can also make you sleepy, so it may be better to take at night to aid with rest.

Bottom Line

It is so good to know that breastfeeding does not have to stop if mommy or baby has the cold or flu. The flu vaccine is safe for all mothers. Discuss with your doctor which medications are the safest to take when you have the cold or flu. If you do happen to catch the cold or flu, remember to take good care of yourself. I pray to God that you get well soon. Ask God to heal your body as you recover. Thank you for stopping by and do visit again.

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