Will Breastfeeding Prevent Flu?

A lot of new mothers have many questions not only about breastfeeding, but also about the benefits that they and their child will enjoy. The flu can be really dangerous to anyone who catches it, which is why it’s so important to make sure that you and your child are protected.

Will breastfeeding protect mom from the flu?

While breastfeeding has a lot of benefits for the mom, protecting her from the flu isn’t one of them.

Breastfeeding mothers can and should receive the flu vaccine as this will not only keep mom from getting sick, but can also reduce the chance of the baby being exposed to the flu.

In fact, breastfeeding mothers are able to pass antibodies to their child through their breastmilk. These antibodies are what the body makes in response to getting the vaccine and will help reduce the chance of the baby getting sick.

Will breastfeeding protect baby from the flu?

Since children under the age of six months are too young to get a vaccine, a breastfeeding mother passing on her antibodies is the absolute best way to help project the infant. Babies who are breastfed can still get the flu, but they generally don’t get it as often and also don’t have cases as severe as children who aren’t breastfed.

Other side benefits of breastfeeding that help battle flu infection

While breastfeeding itself won’t protect mom from the flu 100%, there are some aspects about having a baby and nursing that can actually protect you from the flu. Without realizing it, mothers of young children tend to take active steps to protect their children from germs, which also in turn protect mother from infection.

They may purposefully avoid people who are showing signs of illness, stay home more often or avoid crowded places, and wash hands more often. Mothers may prevent strangers from touching their baby, or may require individuals who want to hold the baby to wash their hands first or use hand sanitizer. These efforts protect the child, but also protect mother from exposure to infection as well.

Breastfeeding moms also tend to be more particular about their diet, with an eye on eating tons of healthy foods full of vitamins, minerals, protein and other goodies to pass on to baby through the breast milk. Nursing mothers also tend to be very diligent about taking their prenatal vitamin or other supplements (like fish oil).

New mothers may also work to incorporate exercise into their daily routines, to help them recover from the strenuous labor and delivery. Oftentimes this is more exercise than the average worker-bee who sits at a desk all day gets.

These efforts to breastfeed as successfully as possible, and to work on overall health and happiness, have the added side benefit of helping mother to stay healthy, and reduce the likelihood that the nursing mother will fall prey to the flu virus.

What can I do to prevent my baby from getting the flu if I get it?

You’ll want to do everything possible to avoid getting your baby sick, especially if she is really small. While you are down with the flu, rely heavily upon your partner to handle as much of the taking care duties as possible.

Yes, nurse your baby. But wash your hands before you touch her (or even shower and put on clean clothing), and wear a face mask to prevent coughing or sneezing on her.

If your child is particularly vulnerable, you could even pump for a few days while you are the most contagious. It is important for you to continue to express milk, to maintain your supply, whether she is drinking it from your breast or the bottle. Don’t supplement with formula unless you find that you aren’t producing as much milk as normal due to illness related dehydration.

Keep yourself in quarantine. Don’t sleep in the same bed with her, or in the same room with her. The flu should be gone within a few days, unless you’ve got the real deal, which could linger for a week or more.

Have your partner help you clean surfaces around the house where germs can be transmitted, such as counters, handles, bedding, etc.

And above all, do all the things you can do to get healthy again. REST. Get as much sleep as you can, even if you have to wake to nurse. Eat good foods if you can keep them down. Drink tons of fluids. Take your vitamins and reduce all external stressors.

What can I take for the flu if I do get it while breastfeeding?

In general, there aren’t a lot of drugs you can take to get rid of the flu. For the most part, you can look to over the counter drugs to alleviate the symptoms of the flu.

Tylenol and Advil are okay while breastfeeding. It is not recommended that you take benadryl, nyquil or other over the counter drugs because they can pass through to your milk, impair your milk production, or make you too drowsy to respond to your baby (which is especially a problem if you are co-sleeping).

Some antiviral drugs (such as tamiflu) seem to be okay, but others may reduce your milk supply, so talk to your doctor about them before taking them.

What if my baby gets the flu?

Babies get sick all the time, so don’t worry just yet. The key is to watch her temperature, how well she nurses, and her general state of well-being.

Any fever for a newborn baby is a concern, so keep a close eye on her temperature. If her fever goes up over 100 degrees F, give your doc a call and let her know what’s going on. Simple illnesses like the common cold can rapidly turn into croup or pneumonia, but these are handled easily if caught early. If your baby has a fever, your doctor may ask you to bring her in for a visit to check her out.

If your baby won’t nurse or take any sort of nourishment for an extended period of time (and isn’t producing any wet or pooped diapers), contact your doctor. This is also a pretty big sign that help is needed.

For more info about breastfeeding, check out our Breastfeeding FAQs post: 100 Breastfeeding Tips For New Moms.

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