Breast milk provides excellent overall protection from sickness, but many babies still come down with some sort of cold, virus, or infection within the first year of life. During an illness, it’s possible your child will be fussier at the breast. Even if nursing is a bit more challenging, it’s important to continue breastfeeding since breast milk may be the best medicine for your little one. In fact, your breast milk’s composition changes to deliver the nutrients and antibodies your baby needs when sick; these changes might even affect the color of your milk. Another benefit of breastfeeding your sick baby? Snuggling close while nursing provides your baby added comfort.
Breastfeeding a Congested Baby
Common cold symptoms include a stuffy and runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and sometimes fever. Babies with colds are often fussy and have trouble staying asleep. Colds generally clear up in five to ten days, but sinus infections can persist for weeks without medical treatment.
Contact your pediatrician’s office to see what you can do to help your baby clear up congested nasal passageways. Some health care professionals may recommend doing nothing as long as your baby is producing enough wet diapers, which should be at least six per day. Here are some other things you can try:
- At the end of a warm bath, use a washcloth to thoroughly wipe your baby’s nose.
- Before nursing, gently remove mucus with a bulb syringe or NoseFrida.
- Lift the head of your baby’s crib a few inches by putting books under the legs.
- Reduce swelling and loosen secretions with saline nose drops.
- Use a humidifier.
- Nurse in a steamy bathroom with a hot shower running.
- Try nursing in a more upright position or in a baby carrier if possible.
- Offer the breast more often as nursing sessions will likely be shorter.
- Make nursing easier for your baby by using a warm compress and massaging your breast to get the milk flowing.
Breastfeeding a Baby Who Has an Earache
Ear infections are painful, especially for breastfeeding babies. As a result, when babies have earaches, they tend to take in less milk per feeding. Below are some things that might help:
- Nurse more often to make up for shorter sessions.
- Pump between feedings to keep your supply up.
- Use a syringe to deliver expressed milk.
- Try the football hold (pictured above), upright hold, or opposite side-lying position to keep pressure off the affected ear.
- If recommended by your health care team, use a combination of acetaminophen or ibuprofen and prescribed antibiotics.
Breastfeeding a Baby Who Has a Sore Throat
Keeping your baby’s throat lubricated will be soothing, so offer the breast as often as possible. Sometimes babies with sore throats prefer cool liquids over warm. Some veteran moms recommend that you
- Give your baby a frozen washcloth to suck on.
- Offer a breast milk popsicle.
- Cool breast milk in a bottle before feeding your baby.
- Run a humidifier.
- Remember not to give honey or honey-based products to babies under 12 months.
Breastfeeding a Baby Who Is Vomiting or Has Diarrhea
Stomach bugs are not super common in breastfed babies, but they can still happen, especially as your baby becomes more mobile and social. Since it can be normal for a baby's stool to be soft, loose, yellow, and runny, it’s sometimes hard to determine if your baby is having diarrhea. If your baby has diarrhea, his or her stools will become more frequent and have a more water-like consistency. Causes of diarrhea include virus, bacteria, and adverse reactions to medication or food. If your baby's diarrhea is related to a virus, know that it can last up to two weeks. Since diarrhea is the leading cause of dehydration in infants, it is very important to nurse your baby often. If your baby is vomiting or has diarrhea, keep an eye on the number of wet diapers to be sure your little one is consuming enough milk. Call your pediatrician if you become concerned. Other tips include
- Nurse your baby in an upright position.
- Always keep a towel handy – and cover your furniture.
- If your baby is eating solids, try the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast).
- Offer small, more frequent feedings rather than longer feedings.
- Avoid putting pressure on your baby’s tummy; this can happen when sitting or holding your baby over your arm.
If you’re concerned about your baby’s symptoms, be sure to reach out to your pediatrician. No matter what the symptoms are, though, the basics of infant care can come in handy. Snuggle up with your baby, stripped down, skin to skin. Don’t worry about schedules or sleep – you will all catch up after the illness passes. If your baby adamantly refuses the breast, try a bottle. Sucking from a breast and sucking from a bottle use different mechanisms, so your baby might prefer a bottle. If using a bottle, offer your newest breast milk first because it will be higher in the antibodies your baby needs to get better. If your baby is refusing to nurse and you are bottle feeding, remember to pump to protect your supply.
Breastfeeding a sick baby takes a lot out of you. As best as you can, try to take care of yourself so you don’t also get sick. This is a great time to call on your village. Enlist a friend to run to the store and pick up a few essentials. Ask a family member to help with meals or childcare. Cut yourself some slack if the laundry and dishes pile up for a few days. An ill child can be incredibly stressful, but a little self-care can be just the thing to help you stay strong and centered.