|Photo courtesy of Babycenter.uk|
One day it's snowing, and the next day it's 60 degrees. No wonder people get sick during this weather! Did you know that just by giving your baby your breastmilk, you are helping keep him healthy during cold and flu season? Yep, that's right, every time he nurses, your baby is getting a variety of amazing components that help keep him healthy! So just what is it about your milk that makes such a difference?
Your Magical MilkBreastmilk is a living fluid filled with many kinds of cells. Some of those cells are immunoglobulins (primarily secretory Ig-A, but others may be present as well); others are infection-fighting leukocytes. They are produced in direct response to a pathogen. So for example, if you and baby are exposed to Great Aunt Jean's nasty cold and cough, your body goes right to work producing antibodies to exactly what Aunt Jean so kindly brought into your house. Your sister decided to visit just as she was coming down with the flu? Your body gets busy making antibodies to the very strain of flu she has. And you pass all these antibodies right to your baby every time you nurse.
Research has shown that when a baby is fighting infection, the content of his mother's milk is significantly higher in leukocytes. That is awesome; but even more intriguing is the theory proposed by researcher Katie Hinde, PhD, at Arizona State University. She and her team hypothesize that one of the ways your body knows what your baby needs is due to elements in baby's saliva that enter your breast as you nurse, stimulating your body to produce elements in your milk designed to specifically fight whatever baby is dealing with.
If You Get SickRegardless of how your body knows that it should produce these antibodies and leukocytes, the fact remains that it DOES! You are like a walking medicine cabinet for your baby. Sometimes a mother may think she shouldn't be around her baby or nurse if she's got a nasty cold or flu. Actually just the opposite is true. When she nurses she is protecting her baby who has already been exposed to her illness. Not nursing will result in a sicker baby. So if you start feeling bad yourself, be extra sure to nurse as often as you can because your baby definitely needs protection from whatever it is that you might have.
If you are feeling just awful, you do need to take care of yourself. This Kelly Mom article has a lot of great information on things you can do to help yourself feel better. Generally it is better to avoid decongestants if possible because anything that can dry up nasal secretions could also have that effect on your milk. A Neti Pot is a great option. Most nasal sprays are considered safe. Guafinesin (Mucinex) is considered a safe cough medication during breastfeeding. It is best to look for preparations with a single ingredient.
Rest as much as you can and stay well hydrated. If you and baby can just curl up together in bed, snuggle, nurse and sleep, that is ideal. Make sure you've got a Big Gulp filled with ice water sitting right next to the bed! Your appetite may be off a bit, but try to at least snack on healthy high-fat foods like nuts or guacamole.
If Baby Gets Sick
It is heartbreaking when your little one doesn't feel well! If your baby does develop a cold or gets a virus, be sure to continue nursing as often as he will nurse. You may find that he won't nurse as long as he usually does, so you might need to offer the breast more frequently. A cool air humidifier can help ease the discomfort for baby, too. A little bit of breastmilk in baby's nose will help you be able to suction it well. We really like the Nosefrida for stuffy little noses.
Rest assured that the severity of whatever virus or cold baby may pick up will be mitigated by all the wonderful leukocytes and antibodies that he is getting from you. And cuddles from Mom as he nurses will help soothe him until he is 100% again.