Monday, May 04, 2009

Breastfeeding and the flu

From the CDC about H1N1:

Does breastfeeding protect babies from this new flu virus?
There are many ways that breastfeeding and breast milk protect babies’ health. Since this is a new virus, we don’t know yet about protection specific against it. Mothers pass on protective antibodies to their baby during breastfeeding. Antibodies are a type of protein made by the immune system in the body. Antibodies help fight off infection.

Flu can be very serious in young babies. Babies who are not breastfed get sick from infections like the flu more often and more severely than babies who are breastfed.

Should I stop breastfeeding my baby if I think I have come in contact with the flu?
No. Because mothers make antibodies to fight diseases they come in contact with, their milk is custom-made to fight the diseases their babies are exposed to as well. This is really important in young babies when their immune system is still developing. Breastfeeding also helps the baby to develop his own ability to fight off diseases.

Is it ok to breastfeed my baby if I am sick?
Yes. This is really important.

Do not stop breastfeeding if you are ill. Ideally babies less than about 6 months of age should get their feedings from breast milk. Breastfeed early and often. Limit formula feeds as much as possible. This will help protect your baby from infection.
If you are too sick to breastfeed, pump and have someone give the expressed milk to your baby.
If my baby is sick, is it okay to breastfeed?
Yes. One of the best things you can do for your sick baby is keep breastfeeding.

Do not stop breastfeeding if your baby is ill. Give your baby many chances to breastfeed throughout the illness. Babies who are sick need more fluids than when they are well. The fluid babies get from breast milk is better than anything else, even better than water, juice, or Pedialyte® because it also helps protect your baby’s immune system.
If your baby is too sick to breastfeed, he or she can drink your milk from a cup, bottle, syringe, or eye-dropper.
If no expressed milk is available, you can give your baby milk donated by other mothers to a HMBANA-certified milk bank.

Very good information here. Things I would change: the word "baby" to "child" and "H1N1/flu" to "any illness."

Why would I change that? According to, which is a very thorough and well-documented breastfeeding site,
Nursing toddlers are sick less often...."Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation" (Nutrition During Lactation 1991; p. 134). In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process. (Goldman 1983, Goldman & Goldblum 1983, Institute of Medicine 1991).
Why is this? My guess is that as your child breastfeeds less, your body compensates for the fewer and shorter feedings by making a more immunologically dense breastmilk so that your child is still receiving the protection they need.

Pictured: blogging and feeding my fever-ridden, napping toddler.

This week, I'll be posting about toddler breastfeeding. Tomorrow will be the "This is what nursing a toddler looks like" blog carnival." I'll be emailing you participants today with instructions.


  1. Whoops, I already posted my post for the carnival.

    Thanks for posting this info. I think a lot of mothers wean if they get sick because they don't know that it's ok to nurse still. It is very important though, that the mother stays hydrated and well-fed if she is nursing and sick! (Of course, that's important other times, too)

  2. I've been in the hospital with my babe, and will do a big post about breastfeeding (or not) in the hospital. But, I forgot to tell you I want in on the carnival! Let me know...

  3. That is really good information. It is so great to know that I am providing my baby with the best protection possible.


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