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Stomach bug and breastfeeding: what to do

Stomach bug and breastfeeding: what to do

We receive a lot of questions about stomach bugs (gastroenteritis) and breastfeeding in the LactApp app consultation channel. It’s that time of the year again, and many breastfeeding mothers and their babies are affected, so we would like to take the opportunity and answer your questions.

I am breastfeeding, and I have a stomach bug: What should I do?

Breastfeeding mothers can be affected by stomach bugs (gastroenteritis) just like anyone else. There is no specific treatment for gastroenteritis, so the guidelines to follow for anyone affected by it, whether breastfeeding or not, are rest and plenty of fluids (hydration), to which we would add hygiene measures before touching or breastfeeding the baby.

Is it advisable to stop breastfeeding?

An infected mother can continue to breastfeed her child as the infection does not spread through her breastmilk. The main thing is to have someone to help look after the baby and to bring the baby to the mother to breastfeed when she is hungry.

If you experience a lot of vomiting or diarrhoea it is important to stay hydrated, the recommendation is to take a single sip of water every 15 minutes so that the water is absorbed. If, after a few hours, you see that you are retaining water, you can take a sip every 5 minutes.

I think my baby has the stomach bug

If an exclusively breastfed baby has caught a stomach bug, breastfeeding should definitely be continued. In breastfed babies, this is a process that rarely becomes serious. The immune factors present in breastmilk not only prevent stomach bugs and gastroenteritis but also help to cure them: breastmilk is composed of a number of different factors that help the gut recover.

How can I tell if my baby is getting dehydrated?

Babies can become dehydrated very easily, especially when they are less than six months old. Signs of dehydration include:

  • Very strong sleepiness
  • No wet nappies/diapers
  • Sunken eyes and fontanelle (soft spot at top of baby’s head)

If you have a baby under 6 months old with a stomach bug, it is very important to consult your paediatrician immediately. If the baby has to stay in the hospital due to dehydration, breastfeeding can be continued.

My child is already eating solids but refuses to eat, she only wants to breastfeed, is this a problem?

It is very normal that when a baby is unwell, she will give up solid foods completely and will only want to breastfeed. Breastmilk will keep her nourished and hydrated until she recovers. In addition, breastmilk is not just food, and the closeness to her mother will help your baby to feel better and calmer.

If your baby has already started eating solids, apart from breastmilk, an oral rehydration solution can be offered after breastfeeding. Your baby may not want it, but it is a good idea to offer it.

What if my baby vomits breastmilk as well?

Try short feeds with breaks to check that the breastmilk is being tolerated well and to help your baby to stay hydrated. It’s a good idea to keep your baby in an upright position after feeds. If she does not keep down anything and vomits all the breastmilk, make sure you check with your paediatrician or healthcare centre.

Do I need to give my baby special food after a stomach bug?

If your baby wants to eat solid food, avoid restrictive diets and let your baby eat whatever she wants. Restrictive diets have been discouraged for years as they provide too few calories, protein and fat to children (and adults), causing the weakened state of health to remain and last longer than desired.

Does my milk have fewer nutrients because of my stomach bug?

Breastmilk is still the best food you can give your baby, even if you are sick. It does not lose its nutrients or stop nourishing your baby.

Will my milk dry up?

Some mothers describe that the baby is more nervous after they have suffered from a stomach bug, that their breasts feel soft or that they simply have the feeling that they have run out of milk.

In the case of a mild process of illness, milk production is usually not affected, and your baby will continue to suckle normally.

If the process has been severe or the mother has become dehydrated, milk production may be partially affected. If this is the case, you should know that this is a temporary situation and that you can fully recover your milk supply to how it was before the stomach bug. Some ideas to increase your milk supply are:

  • Increase the number of feeds as soon as you feel good enough to do so
  • Express breastmilk with a breast pump for a while every hour
  • Keep hydrated well
  • Eat high-calorie foods (fats and proteins) and avoid restrictive diets

With these measures, milk production should recover within a few days.

How can I avoid catching the stomach flu?

A stomach bug or flu (gastroenteritis) is a fairly common infectious disease consisting of inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The main symptoms are diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cramps and sometimes the onset of fever. It can be caused by several different viruses, such as rotavirus and norovirus. It is a highly infectious disease and is very easily spread by faecal-oral contact:

  • Through person-to-person contact, for example by shaking hands with someone who has been sick and has the virus on their hands.
  • By touching contaminated objects.

Therefore, when there is an outbreak of stomach flu, hygiene is key, as it is in the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms that people transmit the disease to others most easily. After going to the toilet or caring for someone with a stomach bug, it is important that all members of the family who may have been in contact with the faeces (poo) or vomit, and of course the sick person themselves, wash their hands with hot water and soap, and if possible dry their hands and face with paper towels, avoiding the use of towels.

I have more questions, can I contact you?

If you need help in your breastfeeding journey and would like some advice, you can find us in the consultation channel of the LactApp app. It contains much more information on all things breastfeeding and you can download it for free for iPhone or Android.

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5216a1.htm
https://ibconline.ca/gastroenteritis/
https://www.lllc.ca/thursdays-tip-gastroenteritis-keep-breastfeeding-it-protects-your-baby
https://jvi.asm.org/content/90/9/4843
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