Breast milk provides excellent overall protection from illness, but many babies still come down with some sort of cold, virus, or infection. When sick, your baby may be fussier at the breast, breastfeed more frequently, or even stop breastfeeding.
Although it might be a bit more challenging, it’s important to continue breastfeeding since human milk may be the best medicine for your little one (whose immune system is still developing).
Another benefit of continuing to breastfeed your sick baby? Snuggling close while nursing provides your baby added comfort, and the skin-to-skin contact helps regulate their body temperature. Below are some of our favorite tips for nursing a sick baby.
Breastfeeding a Congested Baby
Common cold symptoms include stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and sometimes fever. Babies with colds are often fussy and have trouble staying asleep.
Colds generally resolve in five to ten days, but you may want to 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 nostrils.
- Before nursing, gently remove mucus from your baby's nose with a bulb syringe or NoseFrida.
- Lift the head of your baby’s crib a few inches by putting books under the legs (make sure to check with your pediatrician and follow all safety precautions).
- 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 (massage can help ensure the flow of your milk increases).
Breastfeeding a Baby Who Has an Earache
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Ear infections are painful, especially for breastfed 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. (Our Sublime® Hands-Free Pumping Bra allows you to pump, nurse, or do both at the same time, which can be especially handy when your little one is under the weather.)
- Use a syringe to deliver expressed milk.
- Depending on your baby's age and weight, your health care team may recommend using a combination of an over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen and prescribed antibiotics.
- Try the football hold, upright hold, or opposite side-lying position to keep pressure off the affected ear.
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 parents recommend that you
- Give your baby a frozen washcloth to suck on.
- Give your baby a mesh baby feeder filled with frozen fruit.
- Offer a breast milk popsicle.
- Cool pumped breast milk in a bottle before feeding your baby.
- Run a humidifier.
Remember: Do not 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 and is introduced to bacteria and viruses.
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, their stools will become more frequent and have a more water-like consistency.
Causes of diarrhea include teething, viruses, 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’s 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, which protects your baby from dehydration. 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) or other medically reviewed eating plans.
- Offer small, more frequent feedings rather than longer feedings to help keep your baby hydrated.
- 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 a healthcare professional. 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. If your baby does get sick, don’t worry about schedules or sleep – you will all catch up after the illness passes.
Although nursing when your baby is sick can be tough, mother's milk often works wonders. If your baby adamantly refuses the breast, grab your breast pump and 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, remember to pump to protect your milk supply.
Breastfeeding while you’re sick presents another set of challenges, so as best as you can, try to take care of yourself so you don’t also get sick; wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, hydrate, and rest as much as possible.
This is a great time for breastfeeding parents to call on their village. Enlist a friend to run to the store and pick up a few essentials. Meet with a lactation counselor, lactation consultant, or IBCLC. 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 stressful, but a little self-care can be just the thing to help a breastfeeding mother stay strong and centered. We hope your little one gets well soon!
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Please reach out to your health care team with any questions.