The flu visited our house last week and overstayed it’s welcome — as in, it’s still here. Visiting. Making our lives more strained than we ever bargained for the week before Christmas.
Of the many complexities an illness brings to our family with wee ones, one of the biggest is that of keeping the littlest baby healthy & strong, particularly because our baby is under 6 months, meaning he isn’t eligible for the vaccine and with mama sick, his source of nourishment (breastmilk) is at risk.
But with this flu strain being more severe & not covered by the current vaccine, I know I’m likely not alone so here us what I’ve learned.
1. Not only is breastfeeding recommended during the flu but it is the gold standard.
I mean, I didn’t really doubt this but I looked it up to be sure and I found out that, really, there are very few & extremely rare instances in which a hiatus from breastfeeding might actually be required (when a disease might be transmitted through the milk). It does not include when mama gets the flu. So we are pushing through, breastfeeding often & on demand. And hoping the defenses my immune system is building, is passed through the milk to protect him too – preventing illness all together or if he does get sick, the gained immunity may mean he’s not as sick as me.
2. Pumping my breastmilk for (healthy) dad to bottle feed turned out to be a non-option.
On the first day I experienced flu symptoms, I was completely down and out. I wanted to crawl into bed and remain undisturbed. So naturally, I asked Husband to prep a bottle with some fresh breast milk that happened to be in the fridge (what luck!) and I would pump after I got some rest. However, my attempt at nap was soon interrupted with a frustrated baby & daddy. Here’s the thing – babies know when you are around. It’s like they have a 6th sense – they can smell you from 10 rooms away. I suppose this comes in handy for things like survival but when it comes to the flu – it was not helpful. While I did want rest, I also wanted to cuddle my baby for a breastfeeding session. I was just so afraid of exposing him to any germs I might have.
3. Limit face-to-face contact by wearing a mask.
This was the single defining factor that made me feel more comfortable breastfeeding during those early days where I felt like I was a walking plague. Wearing a mask during breastfeeding was a physical reminder for me not to inadvertently kiss him out of habit. Wearing a mask also protects germs from spreading if I have to sneeze, cough, etc. while breastfeeding.
4. My supply diminished and there were some fleeting moments of panic
Dehydration, not enough rest, and an immune system that is kicked into high gear are all factors that decreased my milk supply. Nursing often is a sure way to keep supply up. Breasts work on supply-and-demand so they must be emptied frequently to get the message to continue to fill up. I think nursing frequently is the biggest equation in the factor but it’s also the hardest. When I struggled with this, I turned to foods when I was finally feeling up for eating again. Foods that increase milk supply (or galactagogues) that I keep handy include: oats, brewers yeast, fennel seeds, & garlic (bonus – garlic is known to help fight infection too!). Nursing Support Tea is my saving grace when my appetite is just returning but not ready for anything too heavy yet. This tea is warm, fragrant, and soothing with a lovely blend of herbs that help to increase milk supply.
5. Low supply is fixable
After a few days with the flu, it seemed like my low supply was dragging on & his appetite was just not getting satiated. Feeling like I was failing him, I felt hopeless. Thoughts briefly crossed my mind about possibly supplementing but I knew I couldn’t bear to go down that road. So I buckled down and focused on hydration — drinking not only water now but bottles upon bottles of Gatorade. This was a fun way to get in more fluids and also track my progress because I kept losing track of how many times my water bottle got refilled (short answer: not enough!). I got to bed early, took naps when my littles did, and slept in when it was feasible (ha!).
6. Most medications for the flu are okay to take while breastfeeding
Pre-motherhood, I probably wouldn’t have taken much -perhaps resting & riding it out. But much to my dismay, I learned that motherhood requires me to be functioning. I stuck to acetaminophen to keep me feeling functional and avoided anything else, particularly ones that might impact milk supply or be unsafe for lactating moms.
So there you have it – things I’m learning as I get through the flu for the first time while breastfeeding. Godspeed & good health to you, mamas!