When You Have a Cold or Allergies While Breastfeeding

By: Sabrina Granniss, IBCLC


6 min

Being a parent is full-time, around the clock, and every day of the year, with no days off for being sick from a cold or allergies. Coming down with a cold or dealing with allergies is no fun anytime. As a parent, you feel worried about passing your cold on to your baby in addition to trying to get well yourself. Continuing to breastfeed while you are sick is safe in most situations and can even help protect your baby from catching your cold. Luckily, there are lots of ways you can help yourself at home to decrease your symptoms and help you feel better more quickly.

Keep nursing your baby

Breast milk contains antibodies called immunoglobulins. When you’re exposed to an illness, you begin to make antibodies in your milk specifically to fight off that particular type of germ. They do not fight against the good bacteria in the gut, only the harmful bacteria. The antibodies let the beneficial gut flora continue to do their job of crowding out harmful bacteria so it can not take up residence. In this way, immunoglobulins and gut bacteria work alongside each other to keep your baby well.

Leukocytes are white blood cells that are always on the lookout to fight viruses, bacteria, and other invaders and keep you healthy. At the beginning of breastfeeding, colostrum is very high in leukocytes to protect a newborn from bacteria and other pathogens. After the first couple weeks, leukocytes drop significantly from 13-70% to 0-2% of total cells. (1) When you or your baby are exposed to germs, your breast milk changes, and the number of leukocytes increases significantly.

General care for colds & allergies

  • Get plenty of rest - spend as much time as possible resting and go to bed when your baby goes to bed. Babies are often okay with spending the day in bed with you and nursing as much as they want. This allows you extra resting time and protects against a dip in your milk supply that is common when ill. Your baby benefits from nursing while your body is making antibodies to protect them from becoming sick.
  • Stay hydrated - being sick is sometimes accompanied by a fever, which is dehydrating. Staying hydrated helps your body fight against cold symptoms. Beware of sugary drinks and caffeine. They weaken your immune system, do not help with hydration, and can reduce your milk supply. Instead, have water, low-sugar coconut water (read the label), or try making your own electrolyte drink
  • Eat nourishing foods - make every bite count and eat foods high in vitamins and minerals. One of the best foods is broth when you are sick. Be prepared; make homemade broth now, and keep it in the freezer to eat when you are not feeling your best. 
  • Be gentle on yourself - Ask for help or let the small stuff wait. Laundry and house cleaning will always be there and are not more important than taking care of yourself so you can get over your cold or allergies.
  • Bodywork - You know the feeling of your glands being swollen when you have a sinus cold, sore throat, or even allergies. The lymph system is your body’s drainage system, filtering out pathogens and helping to keep you healthy. Although your body contains hundreds of lymph nodes, most are located in your neck, armpits, groin area, and behind your ears. If your spine is out of alignment, it can make it harder for lymphatic fluid to drain and for the lymph nodes to filter out the pathogens. Getting an adjustment by your chiropractor, osteopath, or other bodyworker can help restore balance in the body, encourage lymph flow, and drain excess mucus. (3)
  • Epsom salt bath - baths are relaxing, and Epsom salts add extra magnesium, which can help detoxify the body (shower off after) and help you feel better. It can soothe your sore muscles and may increase white blood cell production to help fight your cold or flu. (2)
  • Prenatal vitamins - You have extra demands on your body while making milk for your baby. It is recommended to continue your prenatal vitamins or switch to a postnatal vitamin to meet your needs and the needs of your growing baby. (4)
  • Vitamin C, Zinc, and Echinacea - these are all helpful for increasing immunity and fighting off colds.


  • Quercetin decreases the reaction your body has to seasonal allergies. It acts as a natural antihistamine without the drying-out effects.
  • Nettles are a powerhouse herb that helps reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies, give a boost of vitamins and support, and increase milk supply.
  • Eliminate foods that cause leaky gut. Your gut influences your immune system; if it is compromised, you are at greater risk of experiencing seasonal allergies.

Sinus colds

  • Neti pot - this helps keep the nasal passages clear and moisturized. Make sure to use distilled or sterilized water and not tap water.(5)
  • Steam is helpful for clogged sinuses. You can take your baby in the shower or bathroom with you if their nose is stuffed up and benefit from the steam as well.

  • Neti pot - a great way to help keep the nasal passages clear and moisturized. Make sure to use distilled or sterilized water and not tap water. (5)
  • Steam is helpful for clogged sinuses. You can take your baby in the shower or bathroom with you if their nose is stuffed up to benefit from the steam, also. If your baby already has a stuffy nose, making nursing more difficult, the steam can help give relief while allowing them to nurse more easily.

Cough and sore throat

  • Gargle with salt water. Always use mineral-which salt instead of iodized table salt.
  • Make a hot lemonade - boil water and add crushed garlic cloves, the juice of 1/2 - 1 lemon, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and honey to taste. After you finish drinking your tea, go ahead and eat the garlic for a bigger immunity boost. Garlic is antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal. (6)(7)
  • Slippery elm bark cough drops help soothe a sore throat.

Stomach bug

  • Homeopathic Nux Vomica helps when you feel like you are going to throw up
  • Sipping on ginger tea can ease nausea. Ginger is used to help with milk flow and milk let down. 


  • Elderberry has been shown to be effective against the flu, helping to shorten the duration of fevers and cold symptoms. (8)
  • Sipping on apple cider vinegar can help neutralize stomach acid and calm symptoms of nausea.

Wet sock treatment has been used by many at the first sign of a cold or flu symptoms. You warm your feet in the bath before putting on ice-cold, thin, wet cotton socks covered by thick wool or fleece socks and head to bed. The alternating heat and cold stimulate circulation and jump-start the lymphatic system.


All medications have risks. Even drugs considered safe have side effects, deplete essential vitamins and minerals, and can cause more serious problems for some people.

  • Not all medications are safe to take while breastfeeding. If your medicine was prescribed, check with your doctor for an alternative that is compatible with breastfeeding.
  • Decongestants and antihistamines meant to dry up, or thin mucus can reduce milk supply for some people. They can also make your baby more sleepy.
  • Tylenol is the leading cause of acute liver failure and is one of the most common medications responsible for overdose emergency room visits. (9) Tylenol is no longer considered a pain reliever for children under 2 years old. (11) It may increase the risk of asthma for children exposed in utero and early childhood. (12) Studies show Tylenol and generic acetaminophen taken during pregnancy increase the baby’s risk of having ADHD and Autism. (13)
  • Ibuprofen use can cause bleeding, ulcers, and kidney toxicity. (10) Ibuprofen should not be given to children under 4 years old. 
  • Medications that are considered safe while breastfeeding still enter your milk. It is best to always check with your doctor or baby’s pediatrician before taking any medication.
  • You can check the National Library of Medicine’s LactMed database to check your prescription and over-the-counter medication's safety and compatibility with breastfeeding information.

The best protection against colds and seasonal allergies is to prevent them. Dietary changes can improve overall gut health and strengthen your immune system. Reducing stress protects you from getting worn down, making you more susceptible to catching a cold. Some of the most effective ways to minimize unpleasant symptoms can be found right at home or at your local health food store. Be sure to check with your IBCLC or doctor to decide what will help you feel better and be safe for you and your breastfed baby.


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