I have been breastfeeding for 6 weeks now and my engorgement has subsided. I have a bad cold, and I would like to know if I should continue to breastfeed, or will this cause my baby to become sick? Are there any medications I can take for this cold, also? Do you know if these would decrease milk supply substantially?
Both babies and adults get colds, and this exposure is what helps us to build strong immune systems. The good news is that when you or your baby catch a cold, breastfeeding will only help you both heal, and may help your baby to have a cold that is much less severe than yours. When you breastfeed, your breast can act as part of your immune system, producing antibodies against whatever virus, etc that causes the initial cold infection. The antibodies can limit the virus’s ability to cause a more severe infection in the infant, and this is why it is important to continue to breastfeed when one has a cold. It is a pro-active and important form of protection for the breastfeeding infant/child. Babies will sometimes become ill when exposed to many viruses and bacteria, but breastfed babies will be able to build their strong immune systems with the mitigating effect that breastfeeding brings to the situation. Children may often get a milder case of an illness due to breastfeeding and the special live properties of helpful and wonderful to settle into a slower pattern of life. Warm drinks, rest, and time can help the healing.
Breastfeeding mothers find that breastfeeding while lying down is a great way to get rest while caring for baby. It is best to talk to your doctor before using medications such as antihistamine/decongestant preparations, as they may not work that well symptomatically, and can have side effects such as sedation, especially in young infants. Caution must been used with over the counter cold medications, especially any product containing pseudoephedrine, as a very recent study shows that these can significantly lower the milk supply. It is not because pseudoephedrine “dries up,” the milk; it is because the prolactin levels do not rise as effectively during breastfeeding the baby when mothers take this drug. 1. (Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2003 Jul;56(1):18-24. Pseudoephedrine: effects on milk production in women and estimation of infant exposure via breastmilk. Aljazaf K, Hale TW, Ilett KF, Hartmann PE, Mitoulas LR, Kristensen JH, Hackett LP.)
Some mothers find relief of symptoms by using some over the counter pain relievers, and normal saline nasal spray, both available at the pharmacy. Other nasal medications may be effective as well in reducing significant cold symptoms of congestion, as can nasal rinsing with normal saline (.9%) via a nasal irrigation system such as a Neti pot. Check with your doctor for recommendations on medication use.
If symptoms don’t improve within a 5-7 day time, do see your health care practitioner. Of course, hot soup and a daily nap are always useful.