Bronchiolitis and breastfeeding

Bronchiolitis and breastfeeding

Bronchiolitis is a rather frequent lung infection during winter months in infants and toddlers. It causes inflammation and congestion in the smaller branches of the bronchial airways (bronchioles). In most cases bronchiolitis is caused by a virus.

It begins as a cold (mucus, sneezing, sore throat, slight fever) and from the fourth day on, it spreads to the bronchi. This stage usually lasts between 5 and 7 days, although sometimes the cough persists for another week or two.

What can we observe if our baby has bronchiolitis?

As we have explained, the first part of the process is similar to a common cold. In case the situation worsens, we can observe:

  • The baby is sleepy or little active
  • Has difficulty breathing, or makes wheezing noises when breathing
  • Absence of urine in diapers
  • The baby has difficulty maintaining sucking during feedings, or may have little or no interest in breastfeeding, leading to decreased feedings
  • Some also have frequent vomiting

If you notice that your baby has any of these symptoms, it is advisable to see a pediatrician or emergency department for the baby to be checked as soon as possible.

Once in the ER and with the baby evaluated, several things can happen depending on the severity of the baby’s situation: to be sent home with treatment if the baby is mildly infected, or to be admitted if the baby’s situation is severe. 

And if so, what about breastfeeding?

When a baby needs hospitalisation for bronchiolitis it is more than likely that direct sucking to the breast has to be discontinued for a few days. That does not necessarily mean that breastfeeding ends, only that you will possibly need some help to maintain it.

The baby will probably need oxygen and a nasogastric or orogastric tube may be placed until he or she gets better and is able to eat on his or her own again.

baby with catheter

If this is your case and you want to maintain breastfeeding, we give you advice on how to achieve it:

  • It is natural for you to be scared and nervous, and that does not affect your milk production at all. Stress does not reduce production.
  • We know it is easy to say and hard to do, but as far as possible try to take care of you and be taken care of: eat, sleep, have some time to walk a little or do a little exercise …. being in a hospital for days is very stressful and it is easy to forget yourself.
  • Try to get (in many hospitals they have them) a double breast pump to keep up with your production and avoid having breast troubles. If there is no breast pump in the hospital, it can be rented.
  • When possible, express milk every two or three hours, it is a matter of replicating the feedings that the baby would make.
  • If your baby is in a delicate situation, it may take hours or days for him to be given your milk. Being able to refrigerate or freeze your milk is key to being able to offer it to your baby when he or she is better. Most hospitals have fridges to do so.
  • If your baby is fed through an IV tube (intravenous line), save as much milk as you can until the baby recovers and can start feeding with a tube or directly from the breast.
  • When the baby is more stable and the catheter and oxygen are removed, you will be able to put your baby back on the breast and continue breastfeeding.
  • Even the first few days may be difficult and hard to suck. Let your baby take his or her time.

Once at home, it is important that the baby does many short feedings very often, and in upright positions.

In most cases, babies are able to breastfeed again once they improve, allowing your lactation to return to normal. 

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