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  • Nelly Duprat RN

Breastfeeding while having the flu (influenza) or other illness




I have lots of mothers asking me if they can breastfeed while they are sick. The answer is yes! Yes you can continue to breastfeed and give your baby breastmilk while you are sick. Same goes for when the baby is sick! Your milk produces antibodies as you and baby are exposed to new germs. Human milk is constantly changing to meet baby’s needs according to age, health status and many more variables. Your breastmilk will be especially helpful during cold and flu season.


What is infuenza?

Influenza, also known as the flu, is an acute respiratory tract illness caused by influenza viruses. These viruses infect the the respiratory tract -the nose, throat, and lungs, causing a multitude of symptoms such as fever, runny nose, cough, sore and aching muscle, fatigue, headache, vomiting and diarrhea.

contagious


How is the influenza (flu) transmitted?

Th flu is not spread through breast milk, it is spread via respiratory droplets from person to person. It can be transmitted when a person infected with the virus is coughing, sneezing or talking and the droplets are reaching another host. People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Also by touching an object that has the flu virus on it and then touching your own mouth or nose will get you infected.


Breastfeeding when you're sick

If you feel too sick to breastfeed your baby, another caregiver can feed the baby while you pump. You should regularly express milk because your supply could decrease while you are ill. Keep in mind that you need to practice proper hygiene. Before feeding or pumping you should wash your hands well with soap and water. Hand sanitizer is not effective as washing your hands so please take the extra steps to scrub your hands and stay clean!


Precautions to avoid spreading flu to your infant

Infants have weak immunity systems and they are at high-risk of serious flu-related complications. It is important to take precautions when you are sick. Infants younger than 6 months of age cannot be vaccinated against influenza viruses. Before touching the infant or any item that the infant will touch make sure to thoroughly wash and dry your hands with soap and water. When you sneeze or cough cover your nose and mouth with a tissue and throw it away after you use it- even then you still need to take a trip to the sink and wash your hands! When you nurse it is recommended to wear a surgical mask.


Now is the time to ask your parents, your in laws or any other family friends to help you out! You need to disinfect surfaces and try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth because this is the most common way germs are spread.


Treatment

Antiviral drugs will treat the flu, it can help with the symptoms, shorten the duration of illness as well as preventing complications. Make an appointment with your medical provider to get treated as soon as possible.


There are four FDA-approved antiviral drugs recommended by CDC to treat flu.

  • oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu)

  • zanamivir (Relenza)

  • peramivir ( Rapivab), and.

  • baloxavir marboxil ( Xofluza).


Coronavirus/ COVID-19

It's been all over the news, Coronavirus is spreading is multiple countries at a rapid rate leaving people around the world worried on what is going to happen. This virus has it's origin from bats and it was found in China. The symptoms are similar to a flu but it seems that coronavirus is more severe illness progressing to pneumonia. Shortness of breath is another symptom characteristic to COVID-19. The population considered "high-risk" are people over 65, those who have a chronic medical condition, have a compromised immune system or are pregnant.


How is Coronavirus transmitted?

COVID-19 is a new disease and we are learning everyday new things about how it spreads and the severity of the illness it causes. This virus is transmited via droplets, from person to person, like the flu. Unfortunately there is a lot of uncertainty and unknown about how COVID-19 is spread. There were some limited studies on women with coronavirus infection and the virus has not been detected in breast milk but CDC also mentions that they do not know whether infected mothers can transmit the virus via breast milk.


SARS-CoV or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) are two viruses similar to coronavirus and CDC has no specific guidance for breastfeeding during the infection. CDC recommends that infected mothers collaborate to their healthcare provider to determine if they should continue or start breastfeeding and take all possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus to the infant.





Infants and Coronavirus

Most cases have occured in adults and only a few in children. There is no evidence that children are more susceptible. Infection among children was relatively uncommon.


Treatment

There are currently no antiviral drugs recommended or licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19. Two companies Gilead Sciences and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals are making progress on the treatments, let's hope we will soon have a way to stop this virus from spreading.



When you cannot breastfeed

Mama, whenever you are sick remember that there are rare exceptions when breastfeeding or feeding expressed breast milk is not recommended and those can be counted on one hand.

  • classic galactosemia

  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

  • T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II

  • mom is using an illicit street drug, such as PCP (phencyclidine) or cocaine

  • mom is suspected or confirmed Ebola virus disease

Before making a decision if it's safe to breastfeed or feed the baby the expressed breastmilk, talk to a lactation consultant, to your medical provider. I hear so many moms in situation where they threw out their precious liquid gold thinking it is not safe to give it to the baby. We all know how much time, effort and energy we put into breastfeeding, pumping and anything feeding related so please a good tip is to label the milk with the date, time and add a note about your sickness on the milk bag. That way after you get checked and find out what was going on you will know which bags were pumped during the illness and you will have more information on whether you should discard the milk or if it's safe to feed the baby.


Although motherhood can feel so lonely at times, you are not alone! There are other moms just like you going through similar experiences. You can connect with them! Check out our Facebook group where you can get support from other breastfeeding mothers! Click HERE to join the FREE group.


Reference


Fonda, D. (2020, March 9). Two Companies Are Making Progress on Coronavirus Treatments. The Stocks Aren't Responding. Retrieved from https://www.barrons.com/articles/two-companies-are-making-progress-on-coronavirus-treatments-the-stocks-arent-responding-51583779661


Interim Guidance on Breastfeeding for a Mother Confirmed or Under Investigation For COVID-19. (2020, February 19). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/pregnancy-guidance-breastfeeding.html


Yale New Haven Health: Influenza (Flu) vs Coronaviruses. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ynhhs.org/patient-care/urgent-care/flu-or-coronavirus



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