I received this question back when we were discussing fevers.
"What are things a breastfeeding mom can do when her baby is sick?"
We can probably think of several things to do TO our babies when they are sick. You can find dozens of products to put into your child's body for any symptom.
But have you ever stopped to consider only giving your baby breastmilk? What are things you can do to make sure your breastmilk is optimized for "nursing" a sick baby?
Here are some ideas. Be sure to research to make your own decision. The expected disclaimer: this is not medical advice and doesn't override any medical advice you received from a paid professional.
1) Vitamin A intake is an overlooked but vital part of disease prevention and complication prevention. Vitamin A deficiency is associated with increased injuries and deaths from diseases worldwide. Due to outdated stigma, many parents shy away from strong vitamin A intake, worrying about toxicity. This is unfortunate, because vitamin A is an immune regulator and can prevent the duration and severity of a list of diseases including HFMD and measles. It's also an important nutrient for repairing the firstline defense of the body, mucus membranes.
"Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. In pregnant women VAD causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality.
Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in more than half of all countries, especially in Africa and South-East Asia, hitting hardest young children and pregnant women in low-income countries.
Crucial for maternal and child survival, supplying adequate vitamin A in high-risk areas can significantly reduce mortality. Conversely, its absence causes a needlessly high risk of disease and death."
Reconsider the vitamin A toxicity fears here.
"Vitamin A status is associated with immunity to, and pathogenic condition of, hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) in children, say researchers whose study results show that the majority of those with the infectious disease also had vitamin A insufficiency."
2) Vitamin C-rich foods such as peppers and kiwis can increase your health stores, assist you in creating antibodies for the baby and transfer through the milk to help your baby. Researchers have shown that eating excess vitamin C won't provide higher levels in your milk, BUT not eating enough does mean less will be in the milk. Make sure you are eating healthy, C-rich foods to keep optimal levels in your milk.
"According to a study in the April 1985 issue of "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," breastfeeding mothers who took more than 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C, about 10 times the recommended dose, did not experience an increased level of vitamin C in their breast milk. Instead, as long as the mother is getting sufficient vitamin C, the concentration of this nutrient in breast milk remains at the optimal level for the nursing infant."
3) Vitamin D intake needs to be evaluated, especially if you already suspect low levels. Taking higher dosages will allow vitamin D to transfer through your milk to the baby:
"High-dose (6400 IU/day) vitD(3) safely and significantly increased maternal circulating D from baseline compared to controls. There were no differences in circulating D levels of infants supplemented with oral vitD versus infants whose only source of vitD was breast milk."
(The study also found antirachitic effect, which is used to measure prevention of rickets, increased with higher dosages and decreased with lower dosages.)
4) Consuming raw, crushed garlic will attack ANY kind of illness! Your grandma was right: you can't go wrong with some garlic in your food. It also alters the taste of your milk, which seems to encourage the baby to nurse more!
"Allicin, one of the active principles of freshly crushed garlic...was found to exhibit i) antibacterial activity against ...bacteria... including multidrug-resistant enterotoxicogenic strains of Escherichia coli; ii) antifungal activity, particularly against Candida albicans; iii) antiparasitic activity, including some major human intestinal protozoan parasites such as Entamoeba histolytica and Giardia lamblia; and iv) antiviral activity."
"That the nursling detected these changes in mother's milk is suggested by the finding that infants were attached to the breast for longer periods of time and sucked more when the milk smelled like garlic."
5) Kissing your baby's face frequently can stimulate your system to develop antibodies specific to the illness.
"When a mother kisses her baby, she 'samples' those pathogens that are on the baby's face - the very ones that the baby is about to ingest. These samples are taken up by the mother's secondary lympoid organs like the tonsils, and memory B cells specific for those pathogens are re-stimulated. These B cells then migrate to the mother's breasts where they produce just those antibodies that the baby needs!"
6) On that note, bringing your baby to your breasts frequently appears to have the same feedback loop for antibody development. (And researchers think, other components in milk such as nutrient levels.) For the EPing mothers out there, perhaps using your finger to distribute your baby's saliva on the Montgomery glands will help.
Montgomery glands do several things, but are thought to also be saliva receptors, to collect new information from the baby at every feeding. I had trouble finding a public (viewable online) citation, but here is a study that mentions it on page one, under Mechanism: http://tropej.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/pdf_extract/31/2/66
7) Take extra care of yourself. You are providing vital nutrition and emotional caring to your infant. Stay hydrated, stay rested, stay balanced. This is also important in case you end up sick. Nurse frequently, rest together and don't worry if your supply appears to dip a bit while sick; this is normal and your milk will restore as you get better!
8) So this one isn't really about your milk, but it's another thing you can do for you and the baby that doesn't involve taking medication or putting things into/onto a young one. Diffusing antibacterial and antiviral essential oils such as lavender, frankincense, oregano, TTO and lemon can sterilize the air and promote uplifting feelings. Remember to educate yourself on the potential side effects of the essential oils and to use them correctly around infants and young children. Many essential oils have potentially dangerous side effects for little ones, such as peppermint interfering with respiratory responses.
"Most of the oils and compounds displayed strong antiviral eff ects against Herpes Simplex-1. However, the samples tested were less eff ective against Parainfluenza-3. Th e
essential oil of A. graveolens was the most active. Most of the tested oils and compounds exhibited good antibacterial
and antifungal effects."
"Essential oils have been long recognized for their antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, insecticidal and antioxidant properties. They are widely used in medicine and the food industry for these purposes. "
9) Perhaps the best of all when it comes to breastfeeding: COMFORT! Nursing your sick child provides comfort, skin to skin contact and reassurance. Nurse, nurse, nurse and abolish those putdowns about using your breasts as a pacifier. What a wonderful pacifier to have, that can heal, feed, and comfort all in one!
"In a study published in the November issue of PAIN, researchers report that breastfeeding during minor procedures mitigated (reduced) pain in preterm neonates.."