Food poisoning: Safe to nurse?

Recently I got sick with food poisoning. My husband and I were wondering if the bacteria that causes food poisoning and other diseases can be passed on to baby via the breastmilk. Is this possible, or when I'm ill is it okay to continue to breastfeed?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Food poisoning can result from eating food which is contaminated with bacteria or toxins. It can cause vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. In most cases of illness, both mom and baby benefit from continued breastfeeding. When you are exposed to an illness, your body makes specific antibodies which are then passed on to your baby through your breastmilk.

Usually food poisoning stays localized in the intestinal tract and doesn't pass into breastmilk. Rarely, it can become systemic. If a bloodculture shows a systemic infection, breastfeeding will need to be stopped until tests are negative.

In personal communication with The Lactation Study Center, located at the University of Rochester, I was told that a mother with food poisoning should temporarily interrupt nursing. Since food poisoning can be systemic, there is a concern of the toxin being excreted into the breastmilk.

Their recommendation for nursing mothers with food poisoning is to "pump and dump" until the mother is feeling better. I assume this more stringent recommendation was made because most mothers do not promptly get bloodwork when they begin to exhibit these symptoms. By the time the blood test would show a systemic infection, the mom could have been nursing her baby for at least a day or two.

If you think you have food poisoning, you should contact your healthcare provider for prompt evaluation. Together you can make an informed decision on how to best handle your particular situation.

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