Smart Breasts

Breastfeeding and pumping when you're sick


Lesley caught that cold that's been going around—the really nasty one that's been laying everybody up in bed for days. She wrote wondering what she could take that would be safe while breastfeeding. She also wondered how long her breastmilk will last if she doesn't nurse for a couple of days. Wow, she must be sick if she can't even breastfeed. Poor Lesley. You can take ibuprofen and Tylenol for sure. Ask your pharmacist or doctor before you take anything else though. Many over the counter medications are considered safe while breastfeeding but not all and the list of contraindicated medications seems to grow daily. It used to be OK to take Sudafed but nowadays, not so much. Your pharmacist is a great resource for medication information. Just call him/her and ask, "what cold medications are safe while breastfeeding?" Of course, cold mediations won't cure your cold. Only time, rest and plenty of fluids will do that but they might make you feel better while you're waiting it out.

Here's the thing about breastfeeding. Our breasts are genius milk factories with a direct line on supply and demand. That means they'll produce enough milk supply to meet the demand placed on them. The opposite is also true. If we don't demand—they won't supply. You've got to use them or lose it—your milk, that is. If you don't put that baby to the breast for a couple of days and you don't use a breast pump as a substitute, your milk very well may dry up. That's because your breasts figure you don't need them anymore.

If you're still producing milk but your supply is running low, you need to take action right away. Put that baby to the breast immediately and often. Aim for every two to three hours. Use both breasts at each feeding and finish up with a good 10-minutes with a breast pump. You'll also need to increase your calorie and fluid supply. Chances are very good (if it's only been a couple days) that you can reestablish your milk supply. If it's been longer than that, getting your milk supply back might be more challenging but not impossible by any means. Like I said, breasts are genius milk factories. Just because you went on strike for a couple of days doesn't mean the factory is closed. If you're not convinced your breasts are working at maximum capacity, you need to talk to a lactation consultant. They're listed in most phone directories or your hospital, obstetrician or midwife can give you a reference. These ladies are amazing at what they can do with a pair of breasts and a baby.

Next time you get sick, you don't have to quit breastfeeding the baby. You're not at risk for getting your little one sick. As a matter of fact, you'll actually be feeding her lovely antibodies that will help her avoid catching your cold, flu or whatever bug you're carrying around. If you're just too sick to nurse but want to maintain your supply, you've got to pump, pump, and pump again. A good electric one is best because it's as efficient and vigorous as a baby while still being gentle. If you don't have access to one, a hand pump can be purchased at any drug store. If all else fails, log on to La Leche League's website and type, "hand expression" into the search bar. Believe me, pumping by hand works just fine. Women have been using this method for thousands of years without any fuss or bother. I had a cranky old hand pump when my oldest (now 20) was a baby. It pinched and bruised and I hated it. They've gotten a lot better over the years. I figured out how to hand express and it was a breeze. I eventually used an electric pump with the youngest and I have to admit it was a bit more convenient and, oh, somewhat more elegant (if you can actually use that term when you're essentially milking yourself).

I hope you feel better soon, Lesley and that you're able to get that milk flowing again. Breastfeeding's the best food you can give your baby but it's like a lot of things: You only get out of it what you put into it. Intake (baby's) equals output (your breasts). If you give your breasts the message that the milk's not needed anymore, they'll gradually quit production. Now, go get that baby, a big glass of water, a hot cup of tea, some soup and go to bed. The two of you can have an all-day snuggle/nurse session and get things back on track.

Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.