What causes the common cold?
A common cold is usually harmless, even though it can make you feel terrible. Oftentimes, the best treatment is to manage your symptoms with over-the-counter medications, self-care, and rest.
What about when you’re breastfeeding, though? Are there any medications that are unsafe to use at such a time?
You can use most of the usual treatments, but some medications can affect your breast milk.
The common cold is a viral infection that affects your nose and throat. It’s spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs or sneezes. You can also catch the virus if you shake hands with someone who has a cold and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
The virus irritates the lining of your nose and throat and causes inflammation and cold symptoms. Cold symptoms come on gradually and usually start within 1 to 3 days of being exposed to the virus. They include:
- A sore throat
- A stuffy or runny nose
- Muscle aches
For most people, a cold isn’t something to worry about, and it will get better on its own within 7 to 10 days. Sometimes, though, it can lead to other problems like an ear infection or sinus infection.
How to treat a cold while breastfeeding
There is no cure for the cold, so you’ll need to give it time to clear up. In the meantime, you can treat your symptoms at home with some personal care and medications from the pharmacy.
Here are some tips:
Fluids can soothe your sore throat, ease congestion, and help you avoid dehydration. Drink warm fluids like broth, tea, or warm water with lemon. Sucking on ice cubes can also soothe a sore throat and help you slowly hydrate.
Meanwhile, avoid drinks and foods that are dehydrating, like coffee, sugary drinks, alcohol, and salty foods.
Your body is fighting your infection while you’re nourishing your baby, too. In such situations, it’s especially important to recharge your body and your immune system. Get as much sleep as you can and rest while your baby naps.
Gargle with saltwater
Saltwater can soothe a sore throat temporarily. Add ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt to a glass of warm water and gargle it.
Add moisture to the air
Moisture can loosen congestion and help ease your stuffy nose. Use a cool-air humidifier or vaporizer, especially at night time, when it’s often hard to sleep due to a stuffy nose. Clean the humidifier before you use it and change the water every day.
Taking a steamy shower or inhaling steam from a bowl of warm water can also help loosen up congestion. You can add some eucalyptus or menthol, which will soothe you and help with congestion. Be sure to keep your baby away from the hot water, though.
What can I take for a cold while breastfeeding?
Most medications are safe to take while you’re breastfeeding. Medications can pass through your breastmilk to your baby, but only in very low amounts. While medications don’t make your cold go away and won’t get rid of it any faster, they can help you feel better.
Fever reducers and pain relievers
If you have a fever, a headache, or muscle aches, you can take pain relievers from the pharmacy.
- Naproxen, for short-term use only
Don’t take aspirin, though. Aspirin can cause children to contract Reye’s syndrome, which is a rare condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain.
Decongestants are over-the-counter medications that ease a stuffy nose. These have ingredients like pseudoephedrine that shrink the blood vessels in your nose, which opens your airways and helps you breathe better. It’s safe to take decongestants while breastfeeding, but they can also lower your milk supply, so use them with caution.
Nasal decongestant sprays are a better option than oral decongestants. These sprays use different ingredients, like oxymetazoline and xylometazoline, that ease congestion but won't affect your milk supply. You should follow the instructions on the label and only use them for up to 7 days.
Some sprays include:
Another option is a saline spray. Saline can help loosen mucus and relieve a stuffy nose but doesn’t contain any medications.
Lozenges can soothe a dry and sore throat and ease your cough. They have small amounts of ingredients, so you won’t absorb anything into your breastmilk.
Some cough expectorants
Expectorants help to thin mucus. They don’t stop you from coughing but can loosen up your mucus and make it easier to cough and clear viruses and bacteria out of your lungs. Some types, like guaifenesin, are safe to take while you are breastfeeding.
Honey is a natural expectorant that can help loosen up mucus and ease your cough. Add honey to a cup of hot tea, warm water with lemon, or even milk.
If you buy cough medicine, read the label first. Don’t take medicine with codeine in it. Codeine can pass through your milk to your baby and slow down their breathing and make them drowsy.
Can I still breastfeed if I’m sick?
You can still breastfeed your baby if you have a cold. Your body makes antibodies that you’ll pass on to your baby through your milk. You won’t spread the cold virus through your breastmilk, but your baby might catch it from droplets when you talk, sneeze, or cough.
Wash your hands before and after you touch your baby. If you feel very unwell, you could pump some breastmilk and ask a caregiver to feed it to your baby with a bottle. The caregiver should also wash their hands before and after they touch the baby.
When to see the doctor
In most cases, you can treat your cold at home, and it will go away within a few days.
It’s time to see the doctor, though, if you have:
Symptoms that last longer than 3 weeks
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A high fever
- Sinus pain
- Chest brain
- Shortness of breath
Colds can lead to other infections, and you may need more extensive treatment. Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about your baby’s symptoms, too.
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Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Academy of Family Physicians FamilyDoctor.org: "Decongestants: OTC Relief for Congestion." The Breastfeeding Network: "Cough and cold remedies and Breastfeeding," "Decongestants and Breastfeeding."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others."
Cleveland Clinic: "Expectorant."
JOHNS HOPKINS: "Common Cold," "The Do's and Don'ts of Easing Cold Symptoms."
Mayo Clinic: "Breastfeeding and medications: What's safe?" "Cold remedies: What works, what doesn't, what can't hurt," "Common cold," "Reye's syndrome."
National Health Service: "Breastfeeding and medicines." "Common cold," "Pregnancy, breastfeeding and fertility while taking aspirin for pain relief," "Pregnancy, breastfeeding and fertility while taking codeine."
Nemours Children's Health: "Breastfeeding FAQs: Some Common Concerns."
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