Breastfeeding While Sick and How To Recover Your Supply

by Jessica Martin-Weber with Rene Fisher, IBCLC

This article made possible by the generous support of Ameda.

Ameda Finesse Double Electric Breast pump

*Please note, this is not intended to be health care advice or to replace or be a substitute for being seen by a qualified health care provider. 

Is it ok to breastfeed when you’re sick? Could baby get sick from your milk? From being so close to you if you’re contagious?

We often hear how great breastfeeding is for our babies’ immune systems, a highly motivating reason to  breastfeed. There’s plenty of evidence that shows this to be true and even though it’s no guarantee that our babies will never be sick (lowering risk is not eliminating risk), it can certainly be a motivating factor to breastfeed. In fact, we know that in infants, breastfeeding significantly reduces respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, SIDS and infant mortality, allergic disease (asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eczema), celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, and childhood leukemia and lymphoma. (For more, see here and here.) There’s no doubt that breastfeeding can help reduce how often a baby is seek, the severity of their illness, and the duration of their illness. (More on that here.) Most of the time, breastfeeding is exactly what your baby needs when they are sick.

But what about when the breastfeeding parent is the one sick? Particularly with an infectious disease that baby could easily get being in close proximity to the one sick? Is breastmilk that magical it can protect our babies even then?

Not exactly but, well… kind of.

“…the immunologic components found in breast milk appear increasingly likely to play a specific immunologic role in the protection of the nursing infant.” (Mucosal immunity: the immunology of breast milk)

While it is possible your infant nursling could catch a sickness from you even with breastfeeding and since reduced risk doesn’t mean no risk, it certainly does happen, breastfeeding can reduce the duration of infectious disease in the breastfed infant and even beyond the first year of life.

The American Acadamy of Pediatrics recommendation on breastfeeding while sick:

If a mother has a cold or the flu, it is not necessary to discontinue or interrupt breastfeeding. Through breastfeeding, the infant will receive the antibodies that the mother is producing to fight the illness. Most infectious diseases are also not a cause for weaning or interruption. Generally, by the time a disease has been diagnosed, the infant has been exposed and will probably benefit more from the protection he gets from his mother’s breast milk than from weaning. However, each case must be evaluated individually.

There are times when it would be dangerous to breastfeed during an illness such as when the treatment for the illness carries a higher risk to the baby in the mother’s milk than not breastfeeding would. While this is rarely the case for infectious diseases, it is possible. It is important to speak with your health care provider and disclose that you are breastfeeding when considering treatment options. As not all health care providers are fully informed on human lactation, you may find the following resources helpful in determining treatment options that are safe for breastfeeding and to check a medication’s potential impact on breastmilk supply.

  • LactMed app to look up the compatibility of pharmaceutical treatments with breastfeeding.
  • Infant Risk the leading research for medication safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Sometimes, illness can have an impact on breastfeeding. Some changes to breastfeeding that can happen during an illness of the breastfeeding parent:

  • Low milk supply
  • Milk color changes
  • Increased feedings
  • Decreased feedings
  • Sensitivity
  • Fussy baby at breast
  • Sore nipples

Decreased feeding or pumping, fever, and dehydration can lead to a lower supply of milk. Severe dehydration (such as can happen with gastrointestinal illness) can cause a sudden and drastic drop whereas a slow decrease in milk volume is more typical of illnesses such as the flu. Low supply as a result of dehydration will typically come back quickly with hydration, electrolytes, and rest. Low supply as a result of not fully emptying breasts due to fatigue and other symptoms will take time to rebuild. Low supply as a result of medication side effects usually will begin to recover when the medication is stopped and frequent emptying of the breast increases.

American Academy of Pediatrics breastfeeding through sickness

Recovering Milk Supply Following Illness

If you experience low supply as a result of illness, the best way to increase your supply to meet your baby’s needs is simply to let them breastfeed as often as they are interested in doing so. Complete and frequent draining of the breasts will signal the body to produce more milk. Keeping your baby close and doing skin-to-skin will also help encourage milk production. For lactating parents who pump, adding a 10-20 minute pumping session after several feedings or in between feedings can have the same effect. Don’t be surprise if you pump for 10 minutes immediately following a feeding or even an hour later and get nothing or just a few drops. The stimulation will tell your body to make more milk. It may take several days to see results.

Always be sure to be seen by a qualified health care provider for high fevers, prolonged illness, or severe symptoms.

For further discussion and Q&A on breastfeeding through illness and recovering breastmilk supply following illness, see this video chat with Rene Fisher, IBCLC and Jessica Martin-Weber, The Leaky Boob.

This is general information and does not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. If you have a problem you cannot solve quickly, seek help right away. Every baby is different. If in doubt, contact your physician or healthcare provider.

Mother of 4, Rene Fisher has been an IBCLC since 1998. Rene has worked in private practice before going on to be a hospital Lactation consultant for 10 years where she was responsible for nurses and patient education and hands on assistance with breastfeeding mothers. Rene got started in lactation support as a La Leche League Leader 1993 and became a member of La Leche League Area Professional Liaison Department from 2000 -2010. Today, Rene supports families in reaching their baby feeding goals working with Ameda breastfeeding products.



Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of, co-creator of, freelance writer, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. Jessica lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest and co-parents her 7 daughters with her husband of 21 years.


  1. Angela Cameron says:

    I am using Healthy nursing tea.This tea really did help increase my supply. It also tasted really good. Knowing that my supply is sufficient to feed my baby means so much to me. Also I feel like I am drinking something that is really good for me. I added some lemon and honey and it made it taste sweet like a treat.

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