Breastfeeding a Sick Baby

Colds, Ear Infections, and Stomach Bugs

Breastfeeding When Your Baby Is Sick
Breastfeeding might be more difficult when your baby is not feeling well. Nancy Ney/Getty Images

Breastfeeding When Your Baby is Sick

Breastfeeding can help protect your baby from getting sick, but it cannot completely prevent some of the common illnesses of infancy. At some point, your baby may get an ear infection, catch a cold or develop an upset stomach. When this happens, the best thing you can do is to continue to breastfeed.

How Breastfeeding Helps When Your Baby is Sick

  • Breast milk provides your baby with nutrition and essential fluids needed to stay hydrated.
  • Nursing is a great source of comfort to a sick child.

Breastfeeding When Your Baby Has a Common Cold

When a baby has a cold and a stuffy nose, breastfeeding can become difficult. Infants breathe through their nose, so it can be frustrating for the baby to try to nurse and breathe at the same the time.

How to Deal With Nasal Congestion:

  • Use a bulb syringe aspirator to gently suck out the mucus from your baby’s nostrils before nursing.
  • Saline nose drops for infants can be used to help loosen secretions and clear nasal passages.
  • Hot, moist air from a humidifier can help clear the nose and make it easier for your baby to breathe. If you do not have a humidifier, sit in the bathroom with the baby as you run a hot shower. The steam will work like a humidifier.
  • Try nursing your child in an upright position.
  • If your baby continues to have a difficult time breastfeeding, contact your pediatrician.
  • Do not give your baby any over-the-counter medication without first consulting your baby’s doctor.

Breastfeeding When Your Baby Has an Ear Infection

An ear infection can be painful, especially during breastfeeding. If your baby is in pain, she or he may nurse only for a short time at each feeding, so breastfeed very often.

You may need to pump or express some breast milk between feedings to relieve engorgement and keep up your milk supply. Notify your pediatrician if you suspect your child has an ear infection. The doctor may want to see the baby and prescribe an antibiotic.

Breastfeeding When Your Baby Has a Stomach Bug

Gastrointestinal illness is less common in breastfed babies; however, it does happen. Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can be very dangerous in infancy. Breast milk helps fight against diarrhea. It is easily digested and more likely to stay down when your baby is sick. Nurse frequently to help keep your baby hydrated.

Notify Your Pediatrician if:

  • The baby has a fever. A fever indicates an infection. Your baby may need an antibiotic.
  • The baby is not nursing well or refusing to nurse. Poor feeding in infants can be a sign of illness and can cause dehydration.
  • The baby is only producing a small amount of dark, concentrated urine. This is a sign of dehydration.
  • The baby is vomiting after most feedings.


American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Dell. New York. 2006.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession. Mosby. Philadelphia. 1999.

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