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Flu Facts: Breastfeeding and the Flu

Updated: Apr 9

Hand washing is your first line defense against viral illness like flu.

It’s that time again…flu season! It comes around every year and, if you're anything like me, you can't wait for it to be over! If you have a baby and are breastfeeding, you probably have some questions about flu season and how exposure affects your milk and overall feeding experience so let’s dive in!

What is the best way to prevent the flu?

Frequent hand washing and avoiding anyone you know is sick is a great way to protect from flu. Vaccination is recommended for most individuals (including babies 6 months and up) so talk to you health Provider to see if it's right for you! Avoiding crowds and cramped spaces is a great idea especially if you have a little one. Typically flu is contagious from one day before symptom onset for about 5-7 days. Encourage your family members, care providers and close contacts to take steps for protection too! The healthier your circle of support is, the healthier you will be!

Speaking of the flu shot, is it safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding?

YES! Not only will it protect you, but your body will make antibodies to pass along to your baby through breastmilk. How cool is that???

What if I still get the flu? Can I still breastfeed (or give my pumped breastmilk)?

YES! Influenza is spread through respiratory secretions (not breastmilk). If you don’t feel well enough to breastfeed, you can use a breast pump and feed expressed milk until you feel well enough to nurse again.

How can I protect my baby if I have the flu?

Best practice all the time is to wash your hands any time you have contact with your breasts or baby. If you're sick, you should wash your hands and cover your cough to decrease transmission.

I've heard anti-viral medication can help me feel better faster but is it safe?

YES! Oseltamivir is the preferred anti-viral when breastfeeding and it works best when taken ASAP in the first 48 hours. Talk to your care Provider to see if it's right for you!

What about over the counter medications?

Many OTC meds for symptom management are safe and can help you feel a little better. Opt for shorter acting meds and try to treat only bothersome symptoms. Natural remedies like saline nose spray, nasal irrigation (neti pot), cool mist humidifier, warm fluids, etc. are also great options!

Click here for a handy list from the Infant Risk Center about safety of common medications:

What if my milk supply decreases?

A decrease in milk supply can happen for lots of reasons during illness – dehydration, low calorie intake, missed feedings, etc. In general, getting back to your usual breastfeeding (and/or pumping) routine as soon as you can will help turn things around. You can be proactive with adequate fluids and electrolyte replacement. Bone broth is a great strategy to help replace some nutrients too!

For more information:

Breastfeeding during influenza from the CDC - Link here.

In conclusion, under most circumstances, you can continue to breastfeed as usual even if you are sick and those precious antibodies passed to your baby can help keep them well! Good hand hygiene is always a good idea and if you still get flu or other viral illness, prescription and OTC support can help you feel better faster!

Information presented is educational only and not to be taken as medical advice. If you have specific questions about illness and how it impacts your infant feeding, let’s do a video visit and talk about it!

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