Breastfeeding mums get sick too – what to do?

The very first time I rang the ABA Helpline was when I was a first-time mum in the throws of a horrid gastro bug. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to pass on the virus onto my daughter by breastfeeding her, which the counsellor assured me I wouldn’t. I was relieved by the accurate, factual information she gave me, but what I didn’t expect out of the phonecall, was the warmth in the counsellor’s voice, her empathy of my situation, her asking about my support networks, was there anyone who could look after ME? I hadn’t thought about that part, I was so focussed on my baby. Many mums wouldn’t ask or expect our partners or parents or friends to take a day off to look after us, but if you do get sick, consider this as an option. If these people work, their employers often have a sick/carer’s leave entitlement for this very situation.

When a breastfeeding mum gets sick, many of us know about the antibodies our milk produces to make sure our baby is protected against that very bug. This is one of the magic ingredients in breastmilk that no formula company has ever been able to replicate. If you’re feeling yucky, there are a few ways it can affect supply, too. When you are very stressed, or just not feeling 100 per cent, your let-down reflex can have a bit of trouble being triggered. So it’s not that you don’t have any milk, it’s just that you may have trouble letting it out. Baby may get a little frustrated but nothing that a few extra feeds wouldn’t fix (another reason why you need help at home!) and it’s not a permanent situation, once you are feeling better again and can relax, your milk will flow again.

I often chat to mums locally and on Helpline who have to go to hospital for a surgical procedure. They usually ask about having to pump and dump, but I encourage them to speak to their anaesthetist and the hospital staff about allowing them to have baby brought to them straight after the surgery for a breastfeed (just like you do after a caesarean). If you do have someone at home to look after your baby, let the nurses know you are breastfeeding and may require help with expressing after surgery — the last thing you need on top of recovering from an operation is engorgement or mastitis! If they need medical reassurance about this, there are a number of lactation specific helplines with pharmacists trained to deal with medicines during lactation. Thomas Hale’s Medications and Mothers’ Milk is a great reference guide, you can look up the drug you will be receiving and it will tell you about the rate of transfer into the milk, and how safe it is for baby. There are many, many medications that have blanket statements on them stating they are not suitable for breastfeeding mothers that are actually perfectly fine, so it’s worth checking them out properly.

For more information on breastfeeding and anaesthesia and when a breastfeeding mum is hospitalised, check out