It is important for mothers to keep not only her child’s health as a priority, but also her own health as well. In an illness, it is crucial to consider the effect on breastfeeding. The mother may need more support for her to continue breastfeeding especially in cases where there is a disability or mental illness. In cases where a mother is gravely ill and cannot continue breastfeeding, options to feed the child should be considered until the mother can resume breastfeeding.
Nutrition for Mothers
While a woman is breastfeeding, her food intake should increase to approximately 10% if not active physically and 20% or more if moderately to extremely active physically. A poor diet in terms of quantity and quality can affect a mother’s ability to feed and care for the baby. About 500 kilocalories (equivalent to one meal) are required daily to produce 750 ml of milk for a baby. While some of the nutrients can be obtained from body stores that were put into storage in the body during pregnancy, an increased intake is also required to ensure there is adequate nutrition. Usually, an extra meal containing a variety of foods is required daily to cover those needs and conserving the storage of nutrients in the mother’s body. Some of the recommended foods include meats, fish, vegetables, oils, cereals, nuts, seeds, cheese, milk, and beans. Hard physical work should be avoided if possible. Breastfeeding is important as it is the best way for the mother to feed her child and ensure adequate nutrition.
Should Breastfeeding Continue When the Mother Is Ill?
A breastfeeding mother rarely needs to stop nursing during any illness. Breastfeeding should only be discontinued in events of serious illnesses. In developed countries, the only diseases that would require a mother to stop breastfeeding permanently is a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or human T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV) infection. Since the baby have already been exposed to the pathogen causing your illness even before you were aware that you were sick, there really isn’t any benefit in stopping you from breastfeeding your child. The continuation of breastfeeding will also help protect the baby as your body would already be producing antibodies to help you fight off the infection. By continuing to nurse the baby, you will be able to pass on the antibodies to the baby. In many cases, the breastfed baby can be the only family member who does not get sick. Even if he or she does get sick, the symptoms are usually milder compared to other members of the family.
Reducing Transmission to the Baby and Optimizing Care
Since most infections are transmitted through skin to skin contact or secretions from the mouth or nose, you can try to lower the risk of transmitting diseases to your baby by washing your hands often with soap and water, disinfecting surfaces of things the baby touches, avoiding face to face contact, and try not to sneeze or cough near the baby. If you are too tired or have low energy levels, you can tuck the baby next to you in bed and breastfeed while you are laying down. It can even be better if you have someone to help you bring the baby to you for nursing and bringing the baby away after to ensure you get optimal rest. Remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Avoid weaning abruptly as it increases the risk of engorgement, mastitis, and emotional distress for both yourself and the baby.
Breastfeeding While Having A Cold or The Flu
Many mothers often ask whether if it is okay for them to breastfeed when they have a cold or the flu. As previously established above, it is safe to breastfeed while you are sick. It has even been proven to be better to continue breastfeeding if you are sick as your body will be producing antibodies that you can pass on to the baby to protect him or her from the infection. If you are taking medication for your cold or flu, remember to remind or check with your doctor that you are breastfeeding as some medication may decrease the production of milk. If you need to be hospitalized, some hospitals do allow mothers who breastfeed to have their babies with them. However, if it is not allowed, it is important to pump the milk as per the normal feeding schedule. This ensures that the person caring for the baby temporarily can still feed the baby your milk and prevent your body from reducing the production of milk. All these apply if you have other diseases that are not too serious such as a stomach virus, fever, mastitis, or sore throat.
If you are taking medication that your doctor has prescribed and assured you that it is safe for your baby, keep in mind that there are more than 4.3 million women in the United States with babies. During pregnancy or breastfeeding, most of these mothers would have used at least one type of medication and the babies are fine. If you are still worried and have considered stopping breastfeeding temporarily, consider the risks and benefits when you make your decision. It is unlikely that the medication prescribed by your doctor would affect the baby. Stopping breastfeeding temporarily also takes away the benefits of breast milk for your baby. Changing to infant formula deprives the child of your antibodies and immune factors that can help protect him or her from sickness. In families that have a history of allergies, babies that are given infant formula also may have a higher risk of developing conditions such as asthma and eczema. Remember that breast milk is not just food for your baby, the act of breastfeeding itself also provides the comfort and love they need. Abrupt weaning can also cause engorgement of the breasts, blocked ducts, mastitis, and more.
Usually, medication that is considered safe for babies will be the best choice for mothers who are nursing. If you are worried, you can observe if there are any side effects in your baby. The amount of medication the baby receives from breastfeeding is generally in lower amounts than what he or she would receive while you are pregnant.
Medications that are safe for a baby are typically medications that:
o Do not pass through breast milk
o Are not absorbed by the baby’s digestive tract
o Have a long history of being safely used in mothers who are breastfeeding
If you have doubts, you should always check with your doctor before taking a medication that has not been prescribed by your doctor. Here are a few facts that may be able to help you decide if you should take the medication while breastfeeding your baby:
a) A baby that is heavier is generally less affected by medications compared to a lighter baby.
b) Babies that are most likely to be affected by medications are premature and newborn babies.
c) Babies after the age of one month old can handle certain medications better.
d) If your baby has started eating solid foods or have supplemental formula while also concurrently being breastfed, he or she will receive less medication through your breast milk if compared to those who are exclusively breastfeeding.
e) Medication that are taken for a longer duration will have a higher risk of affecting the baby compared to the ones that are only taken for a short duration.
f) The mother’s milk can contain varying levels of medication according to the duration between taking the medication and the next nursing session.
For over the counter medication such as Paracetamol / Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen, these medications have been considered to be acceptable in nursing mothers while Aspirin is not safe for nursing mothers as it affects babies. Normal cold and flu medications that are available over the counter can also cause drowsiness and lower the production of breast milk. Try to choose medications that has only one active ingredient compared to compound medications.
Less Common Conditions
In cases such as chickenpox or herpes simples, you should consult your doctor, so you can be given more information regarding your illness and how to reduce the risks of transmission to your baby. If you have depression or other mental health issues, your doctor can usually help you find an acceptable alternative that works for you and is safe for your baby. If you decide to breastfeed, don’t hesitate to inform your doctor so he or she can help you the best they can. In cases of depression, breastfeeding can be beneficial as it helps maintain the bond between mother and child. If you have chronic conditions such as asthma, lupus, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, thyroid disease and more, breastfeeding is still beneficial for your baby. Remember to check with your health care provided regarding medications that are safe for nursing mothers.