Being a parent is full-time, around the clock, and every day of the year. Parenting doesn’t have days off for being sick from a cold or dealing with 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.
Keep nursing your baby
Breast milk contains antibodies called immunoglobulins. When you are 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 that are 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 they 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, the amount of leukocytes drops 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 ok with spending the day in bed with you and nursing as much as they want. This allows you extra rest time and more milk protection for them.
- 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 and make homemade broth now and keep it in the freezer for 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 another 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 continue to meet your needs and the needs of your growing baby.(4)
- Vitamin C, Zinc, and Echinacea 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 and if it is compromised, you are at greater risk for experiencing seasonal allergies.
- Neti pot - this helps keep the nasal passages clean 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.
Cough and sore throat
- Gargle with saltwater. Always use mineral-rich salt instead of iodized table salt.
- Make a hot lemonade - boil water and add crushed garlic cloves, the juice of half - 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.
- 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 the 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-starts the lymphatic system.
All medications have risks. Even medications considered safe have side effects, deplete important 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. 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 the age of 2 years old.(11) It may increase the risk of asthma for children exposed in utero and early childhood.(12)
- 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 enters 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 on your prescription and over-the-counter medications' safety and compatibility with breastfeeding information.
The best protection against colds and seasonal allergies are to prevent them. Diet changes that improve overall gut health strengthen your immune system. Finding ways to reduce stress protects you from getting worn down making you more susceptible to catching a cold. Some of the most effective ways to reduce 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.