Breastfeeding is a very natural process designed to supply nutrition to the baby from the mother, especially for the first 6 months post-partum. This implies that the baby’s growth is entirely dependent on this elixir. Any mother forming a good quantity of milk can and should breastfeed, and some are kind enough to donate as well.
The best thing for a mother when sick is to continue feeding the baby, because if the milk is not given to the baby, it deprives the child of nutrition and also increases the mother’s agony. Human milk has antibodies to anything that the mother is exposed to and protects the child. The mother does not transmit any and every disease to the child that easily.
This holds true in cases of common cold, flu, fevers, mastitis, throat infections, food poisoning or a simple stomach flu. Depending on the severity of the infection, and under a physician’s supervision, it is alright to continue breast feeding. Doctors suggest that in case the mother has a gastric complaint or a Genito-urinary complaint and is being treated with breastfeeding friendly medication – she can continue feeding her child. As long as the infection is not blood-borne or active in the blood, it is safe to breast feed.
Nevertheless, if the mother is extremely nervous of breast feeding while sick, she can express it, and have a health care provider help her feed the child.
There are certain conditions in which a mother should not exclusively breastfeed. Theseare as follows:
- Viral infections in the mother – because usually virus when recognized active in the blood, can be transmitted via breastmilk to the babies.
- HIV – human immunodeficiency virus
- Active lesion of HSV – herpes simplex virus
- Active varicella virus – chicken pox
- Ebola virus
- HTLV – human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 and 2
- HIV – human immunodeficiency virus
- Mother is on illegal drugs such as cocaine and Phencyclidine
- Mother has had breast surgery or is exposed to radiation.
- Baby has a metabolic genetic disorder – galactosemia
- Mother has an untreated brucellosis – a bacterial infection acquired by being around animals like sheep etc.
- Mother has an untreated and/or an active infection of tuberculosis.
- in case of viral infections, it is best to avoid breast-feeding, and formula feed a child, based on the prescription given by a doctor. Viral infections are very active in the blood of the mother and easily transmit.
- But in case of an active lesion of HSV, the mother can feed from the unaffected breast as long as the lesion is covered and is being taken care of by a physician.
- In an active case of chickenpox, just a few days prior to parturition, mother needs to hold off till the infection subsides, and then continue after medical supervision.
- When on illegal drugs, mothers must avoid breast-feeding, unless they have been on any treatment which approves of it.
- In case of surgeries and under radiation, it is best to avoid as it may infect the child.
- Galactosemia is a metabolic disorder of new-born where the baby fails to thrive, has a bleeding disorder, hepatocellular malfunctioning and cannot take in human milk. Treatment is compulsory and complications will arise in the future.
- Any bacterial infection like brucellosis if active and present in the blood stream, should first be treated and then the mother should be allowed to continue breast feeding, when the infection subsides, under full supervision and care.
- In tuberculosis, the mother needs to be treated for 2 – 3 weeks and declared non-contagious by the concerned pulmonologist before she continues breast-feeding under guidance.
Keeping all the above in mind, it is important for a woman who is aspiring to bear children, to stay healthy; avoid smoking, alcohol, drugs; and lead as much a healthy lifestyle as possible. This is imperative for a healthy reproductive life.