February 20, 2019
Mother with a breast pump
Health News

CDC: Don't Breastfeed Your Newborn If You Have the Flu

by Amanda Z. Naprawa  

According to the CDC, influenza activity remains high in nearly all fifty states. The proportion of people seeking medical attention for “influenza-like illness” has reached the highest percentage since the 2009 flu pandemic. And there have been a reported 63 pediatric deaths from flu so far this season.

Because of the potential danger of flu for young children, the CDC strongly recommends that all babies get vaccinated starting at six months. Children under six months, however, are at increased risk of acquiring flu because they cannot be vaccinated. For this reason, the CDC is recommending—in addition to its usual advice that all caregivers of an infant receive the flu vaccine (as well as all pregnant women, who pass some protection to the baby in utero)—that mothers with influenza refrain from breastfeeding or bottle-feeding their newborn babies. Instead, nursing mothers should express (pump) their breast milk to be fed to the infant by a healthy caregiver; babies who are formula fed should likewise be fed by a healthy caregiver. Infected mothers should wash their hands before pumping breast milk and should consider wearing a mask and gloves during the process to avoid getting the influenza virus in or on the milk bottles.

The CDC’s recommendation is based on the fact that mothers who are ill with influenza can easily pass the virus to their infants. It’s well known that flu spreads via respiratory droplets and physical contact; newer evidence suggests that it can also be spread simply through breathing.If possible, the CDC recommends that women with infants younger than six months be isolated from their babies until they have been fever-free (without medication) for 24 hours or on an antiviral medication, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) for 48 hours. In some situations, it may be impossible for the mother to be quarantined from her newborn; in those cases, she should wear a mask while caring for the baby to prevent the transmission of the virus.

Read the CDC’s full advice on infant feeding and influenza here.

Also see Breastfeeding: Have the Benefits Been Overblown?