Avoid Decreased Milk Supply: Breastfeeding While Sick
If you’re a breastfeeding mama, you already know some of the challenges associated with breastfeeding. Things like the on-call demand from your little one for food no matter what time it is. Or the invisible yet noticeable chain that keeps you tied to your baby while nursing. The worst, however, might be breastfeeding while sick in order to avoid a decrease in milk supply.
But when you’re a sick mom, breastfeeding during your hour of need seems next to impossible as you attempt to care for yourself as well.
I’m going to share my experiences with you on breastfeeding while sick and provide you with some tips to help get you through this hard time and help you avoid a decrease in milk supply.
Breastfeeding While Sick With The Stomach Flu
I work in early childhood education and when children in my classroom get sick, I worry about my own health, and about breastfeeding while sick.
When my son was 10 months old, I caught a stomach bug that landed me on the bathroom floor worshipping the porcelain god, begging for relief.
I couldn’t even keep water down.
It was horrendous. I couldn’t control what my body was doing and had to also hear my baby crying because he was hungry and wanted to breastfeed.
I had run out of my freezer stash of breastmilk a couple weeks earlier so my only option was breastfeeding while sick.
As hard as my husband was trying to soothe our son and offering him baby food, my baby was not having any of it.
The day after this stomach bug had taken over my body, I felt weak and sore. All I wanted was to lay still in my bed.
But as I’m sure you know, that’s not possible with an infant.
My boobs were still on-call.
Throughout that day, I noticed I was feeling more deflated than usual and I feared that this illness had tanked my supply.
I tried to pump between feedings and barely got an ounce from both breasts despite typically being able to pump five to six ounces with no problem.
I was at a loss.
Fast forward about a month later and I catch a cold that has me sneezing uncontrollably and coughing something fierce. My supply again suffered despite breastfeeding while sick.
I was worried that I wouldn’t fully recover to maintain my breastfeeding relationship.
At this point, since my son was close to his first birthday, I considered ending breastfeeding altogether. However, he wasn’t ready to wean.
Remedies For Maintaining Milk Supply
I did a variety of things to help keep my breastfeeding relationship going and maintaining my milk supply while breastfeeding while sick.
It’s important to remember that simply breastfeeding on demand is the most important “remedy” to preventing a decrease in milk supply. Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand, so if at all possible, feed your baby that liquid gold, straight from the source.
1. Increase Water Intake
There are many reasons to drink more frequently when you’re breastfeeding while sick.
Staying hydrated will to help prevent dehydration from being ill. It will ensure your body has the fluids necessary to maintain or increase your supply, and overall help alleviate the need to vomit and might even help flush out the sickness.
Since water can become a little bland after a while, I incorporated some Gatorade to increase my electrolytes on top of staying hydrated.
2. Sleep When The Baby Sleeps
It seems everyone says to sleep when the baby sleeps when they’re newborns, but it is especially wise advice when you’re breastfeeding while sick.
Sometimes it’s a challenge, but you should definitely sleep whenever you have the opportunity – to help recover from illness and recharge your batteries a bit.
The rest and sleep will also help you drudge up the mental resources to keep feeding your babe, even if you feel like death warmed over.
3. Ask For Help
I employed my husband to do everything except the breastfeeding (obviously).
This helped me rest up more. Doing as little as possible was exactly what I needed.
My husband changed all the diapers. He fed our baby some baby food at meal times. And he did the parts of the housework that couldn’t wait. He also entertained our son and made me some small meals to help build my strength back up.
If your partner isn’t able to lend as much of a hand as you need (because let’s face it, sometimes work schedules just don’t allow time off to help out at home), ask others.
If you have relatives or friends nearby, ask them for a hand with a specific task. For example, “Hey Sue, I am soooo sick! And I’m still breastfeeding while sick, too. It’s rough. Any chance you could pop by and give me a hand with some vacuuming?”
Requesting a specific task can sometimes make it feel more doable for the friend you’re asking.
4. Pump Between Feedings
I was able to pump between feedings to help get my supply back faster.
Prior to getting sick, I didn’t know that my breastmilk would be so impacted by this and therefore I panicked a bit when I felt my supply dwindling.
By pumping I continued to demand more milk from my body in order to increase my supply quicker – it’s all about that supply and demand. Of course, if you’re reading this before you get sick, you might be able to maintain your supply without a decrease, simply by following many of the tips.
If not, and you’re currently breastfeeding while sick, don’t worry, you can do this. If you don’t have a pump, you can always express by hand into a bowl, and then pour that milk into the bottle. (Here are some excellent directions on how to express by pump or by hand.)
Here is a video tutorial on hand expressing techniques.
When I was breastfeeding while sick, I took it easy whenever I could.
I didn’t walk from one place to another in the house if I didn’t need to.
If housework didn’t need immediate attention, then I didn’t do it.
When my baby was content to play with his daddy and didn’t need me to entertain or comfort him, then I let my husband and baby be. As much as I missed his cuddles, I needed the ultimate “me” time at that point.
Use your time to relax any way you like… Have a nap. Read. Sit outside to get some fresh air. Nothing strenuous, however. The goal is to get better, not to get worn out. Consider it an all-day extension of your usual morning routine, minus all the “getting ready to go out” activities, and more “taking time for yourself”.
Breast Milk Is Magical
While these illnesses didn’t last forever, at the moment it sure felt everlasting!
It was a difficult couple of days as I fought to get better and keep up with my baby’s needs after each illness.
Fortunately, breastmilk contains antibodies to whatever moms are fighting off. It means our babies are less likely to become ill, too. That meant I didn’t have to also take care of a sick baby.
But not to worry! Although it might feel impossible, you can do this. You can keep breastfeeding while sick, and while your baby is sick. It’ll help your babe recover more quickly and possibly have a milder infection.
Your body is incredible and the fact that you can produce breast milk is magical.
Trust your body to know what it is doing. Help yourself and your baby by hydrating, resting, and nourishing you both.
For more information on breastfeeding while ill, check out this resource from the International Breastfeeding Clinic: Breastfeeding and Maternal Illness.
Have you ever had to continue breastfeeding while sick? What did you do to keep up your supply? Let me know in the comments below.