You know what's not fair? Falling ill when you're a mother. There really should be a law against it. But let's face it; generally, mamas are at the germ-filled frontline.
This is especially true for breastfeeding mums. We're the ones that get covered in vomit/snot/dubious bodily fluids 24/7. It's no wonder really that we end up with the lurgy ourselves.
Thing is, you can't just stop breastfeeding because you feel like rubbish. Very few babies (or toddlers for that matter) will accept a 'sorry, mummy doesn't feel like feeding right now, can you leave me alone to sleep for 12 hours?' So what's a boobin' mama to do?
We've pulled together our best tips to help you survive, at least until the Ibuprofen kicks in!
Is it safe to breastfeed while you're sick?
First things first though. Is it actually safe to breastfeed when you're unwell? The good news?! Generally, YES, it is absolutely safe to breastfeed with the majority of common illnesses (think colds, flu, stomach bugs, fever and mastitis). In fact, thanks to the antibacterial and antiviral elements of breastmilk, your baby will be given a potent dose of protective antibodies each time they feed. With less common illnesses, breastfeeding is often still possible, except for in the case of a few very rare conditions. It's always handy to speak with your GP however if you have concerns.
What about COVID-19?
The world of sickness changed dramatically in 2020 when we first started hearing about the COVID-19 pandemic that was sweeping the globe. In the early days, there was some concern as to whether it was ok for a mama to breastfeed her baby if she had contracted the infection. The good news is that continued research is overwhelmingly in support of continuing to breastfeed with appropriate precautions if necessary.
What about medication?
According to HealthDirect, the majority of common, over the counter and prescribed medications are safe to take while breastfeeding. Paracetamol, ibuprofen, some antibiotics, non-drowsy antihistamines (that don't contain fexofenadine and cetirizine), asthma medication and decongestant nasal sprays are generally considered safe to take while feeding. It's always a good idea to tell the pharmacist (or whoever is purchasing medication for you) that you're breastfeeding and require something that is safe for that so that they can check or advise you properly.
Try and avoid: Antihistamines that make you drowsy and/or contain fexofenadine and cetirizine. Medications that contain pseudoephedrine. Medications that contain Iodine. Strong painkillers that contain codeine and/or tramadol.
Your best bet? Speak to your GP or pharmacist.
Image source: The Thud
How to survive
Breastfeeding when you feel like death is not fun. Unfortunately, short of employing a wet-nurse, it's something that you'll have to grit your teeth and push through. The best way to manage?
- Delegate (or just forget about) all other activities that aren't immediately required to keep yourself/baby/other kids, alive. The washing can wait. Your toddler will cope with watching back to back episodes of 'Bluey' and eating Ritz crackers by the fistful.
- Breastfeed lying down. If you haven't learnt to breastfeed lying down then now is the time. Bubs of all ages can be fed in the side lying position and it truly is a lifesaver when you're not well (or exhausted!). Take to your bed and if you can, spend your time snuggling and snoozing. Even if you can't sleep properly, staying off your feet will help.
- Don't forget to drink - Even if you can't stomach food, it's important to keep up your fluids. Your body will continue to make milk even when you're not eating a huge amount, but you need to stay hydrated both for your own health and your milk supply. If you're worried about your supply, adding a lactation tea can be helpful. It'll help up your fluid intake and give your milk a little boost.
- Ask for help - It's not always easy (and sometimes, not possible), but if you can ask for help, DO IT. While you can't just hand over your baby for extended periods while breastfeeding, you can feed then give bubs to your partner/family member/trusted friend/hired angel to do the rest while you sleep. Ask them to take care of everything else while you focus purely on feeding and resting. Everything else can wait.
What about my milk supply?
As a breastfeeding mama, you'll know that your milk supply is an ever-changing beast. Whether sickness will impact your supply really depends on the type of illness, how long it lasts, how old your bub is and what your usual supply is like. A short illness generally shouldn't impact your supply to any great extent, especially if you're still feeding regularly.
A stomach bug or illness where you struggle to eat and/or keep down fluids may be more problematic, but ensuring that you stay as hydrated as possible will help. If your baby becomes fussy or frustrated waiting for a letdown while you're sick, you can try breast compressions or gentle massage to help get your milk flowing a little faster.
If you need help or advice, you can contact The Australian Breastfeeding Association helpline on 1800 686 268.
If you need to give your supply a boost post sickness, check out our range of natural (and delicious) milk boosters here.