Winter is coming! And, along with winter comes dreaded coughs, colds and winter bugs. It can be a tricky time navigating breastfeeding through your baby’s first cold, but, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Read on to uncover helpful tips on how to ease your baby’s illness and maintain your supply.
When your little one experiences their first cold, it can be tough on you both! It can be difficult and frustrating for them to let you know that they aren’t feeling well and, for you, it can be stressful to try and figure it out!
How it All Starts
Changes in behaviour are often the first sign that your baby may not be feeling well, such as crying more frequently than usual, crankiness, wanting to feed more often, wanting to feed less often and being more difficult to console. If you are worried that your baby is becoming unwell, it is important to have them checked by your General Practitioner to make sure that it is nothing serious.
Sometimes a sick baby will start to refuse the breast because their throat is sore or because the congestion associated with a cold can make it hard for your baby to breathe clearly through their nose. Despite this temporary challenge, your breast milk is especially important for your little one during this time.
Your Breastmilk is Powerful!
When your baby is sick, your body springs into action and tailors the composition of your breast milk to provide the vitamins, antibodies, and other essential nutrients that your baby needs most to fight through their illness. Amazingly, the composition of your breastmilk changes when your baby is ill. How clever is that!
If you’re exposed to a bacterial or viral infection, your body makes antibodies to combat it; these are then transferred to your baby through your milk. The levels of immunity-boosting cells, called leukocytes, in your milk also rise rapidly whenever your baby is unwell.
Due to the inflammation of a sore little throat, associated with a cold, your baby may start to refuse to breastfeed or may want to breastfeed for shorter periods. If this happens, offer your baby the breast often and let them guide you on how long they feed for. You may need to feed them very frequently until the inflammation reduces and your baby can sustain a more usual feed.
Due to nasal congestion, your baby may need to stop and take a few breaths before returning to sucking at your breast. Go with their pace and allow them to break regularly. Keep an eye on their nappy output to make sure they are not showing any signs of dehydration.
Cuddles Are Magical
Often, babies will want to feed constantly while they have a cold. Their bodies know that they need the valuable milk that you are producing for an antibody hit to help them recover. Your breastmilk can help to soothe a sore and irritated throat, and frequent cuddles and contact can help with aches and pains.
Hold and cuddle your baby as often as you need to help them through this tough time. You may even like to have some skin-to-skin time to help your baby. When holding your baby like this, you and your baby are releasing the feel-good hormone, oxytocin, and this will help you and your baby to feel better. There is nothing that can’t be fixed with a boob and a cuddle!
When breastfeeding, keep your little one as upright as possible. Congestion is often relieved when upright and it may help to reduce all those nasty secretions.
Try using saline drops and a rubber suction bulb to remove congestion from your baby’s nose before breastfeeding. You will likely have to do this several times through the day and night to continuously clear out backed-up mucus to create a comfortable feeding experience for your little one.
What if My Baby Doesn’t Want to Drink?
When a sick baby is reluctant to breastfeed, you can try giving them your breast milk with a syringe, dropper, or cup, to encourage them to drink and to keep up their oral intake.
You may also consider freezing some of your expressed breast milk until it is slushy and then feeding it to your little one with a spoon or cup – the cold, slushy mixture may provide some relief for a sore throat while providing the important antibodies and nutrients he or she needs from your breast milk. However, if your baby’s cold worsens or becomes severe, be sure to visit a healthcare provider right away for professional care.
How Can I Maintain My Supply if My Baby is Feeding Less?
If your little one is breastfeeding less – or not at all – while they are under the weather, it’s important to maintain your supply until your baby can breastfeed. To do this, you will need to express your breast regularly until your baby is feeding well again.
Breast milk is maintained on a supply and demand basis, and regular expression tells your body to continue production. If your baby is not feeding well, you will need to express as many times during the day and night that your baby would usually feed.
By regularly expressing milk from your breasts, you are telling your body that you still need to make this milk; otherwise, your body will think that it is no longer needed and your supply will start to reduce. This is particularly important if there are any changes to how your baby breastfeeds while sick, such as breastfeeding for shorter periods or less frequently through the day and night.
Consistent, expression during this time can help you continue providing breast milk – and its antibodies, vitamins, and other nutrients tailored specifically to your baby’s needs – for as long as you choose.
Maintaining good hand hygiene is important to minimise the risk of spreading the illness. Wash your hands with soap before and after feeding your baby, preparing and eating food, going to the toilet or changing nappies. Catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue, or the crook of your elbow (not your hands) if you don’t have one with you and always wash or sanitise your hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
Have you or your baby been sick with a cold recently? Let us know what things helped you and your little one get through the chillier months! Let’s have a chat and support each other!