I don’t know about you, but my family has had a terrible winter full of sickness. Truly brutal. Every two weeks, if not every two days, something new enters my family of five; one has the stomach virus, one gets pink eye, one has a cold. There seems to be no pattern to this season’s viral fury, and it has left me feeling like I’m in a tunnel I may never get out of. I have young, elementary aged kids, and my husband is a teacher. Bugs come to us often, but this winter just seems like our worst in a couple of years. With the fearfulness of cold and flu season, as well as the unknown fear of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, it got me thinking I wish I was still nursing all of my “babies.”
I long for the days when I could nurse a baby with a cold and find comfort knowing I was not going to spread my cold to him through my breastmilk, and my body would also pass the antibodies he needed to fight off the illness. Yes, it really is true. Four days after I came home with my second born, I got the stomach virus. Recovering from birth while caring for a newborn and toddler was most definitely tough enough, but a stomach virus made it more challenging. I was incredibly worried about giving my 4-day old an illness he may have trouble handling. I called my doctor, and they let me know to just keep nursing him, and I would be able to protect him from the stomach virus because MY body was creating a way to protect my newborn through my breastmilk!!! There are endless amounts of benefits breastfeeding provides to mom and baby, but this topic truly amazes me!
In the first few days of baby’s life, a mother’s body is already paving the way to her baby’s strong immune system through colostrum. This “liquid gold” contains concentrated immunological properties that is baby’s first protection against the germs he is immediately exposed to coming into the world. The incredible scientists that study breastmilk have discovered an anti-infective agent in colostrum that coats baby’s intestines to protect against the passage of germs and proteins that could one day lead to allergies. As mature milk develops in the first two weeks, the baby develops an immune system nearly as strong as his mother’s.
So, what happens if mom gets sick?
There are only a few very serious illnesses that require mom to stop breastfeeding when she is sick. Even before you realize you are coming down with anything, your body is already passing the illness immunities to your baby! If you were to stop nursing when you felt the flu hit, you would deprive your baby of the incredibly important immune strength that this illness is specifically passing along. What’s mind-blowing is if baby gets sick first, he passes his germs to mom through breastfeeding, and the breast itself begins making antibodies, passing them right back to protect baby. Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor. Truly amazing!
That being said, it is important to continue to protect yourself and baby during illness by practicing hand washing, covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and limiting face to face snuggling (I know, super hard). It’s also VERY important for mom to keep hydrated and if being prescribed a medicine by your doctor, make sure it can be safely taken while breastfeeding. Thankfully, your breastmilk alone will be that big tall glass of electrolytes that baby needs to stay hydrated and comforted through illness. If you have further questions or concerns regarding breastfeeding during illness, contact your provider or a lactation consultant.
So, stay strong fellow moms through this year’s germ filled season. I’ll just be daydreaming about the time that all my children needed was the strength of my breastmilk to get through cold and flu season.
Written by Rachel Lowery, Certified Lactation Counselor and Customer Care Specialist at Acelleron. Rachel is also a mom of three!
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League International