Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, which is highly contagious. A baby who come in direct contact with her mother's cold sore may get the virus. While cold sores generally aren't dangerous for adults, the virus may be dangerous for infants. Because of this, breastfeeding mothers should use caution whenever they have a cold sore outbreak to prevent their babies from getting this condition.
The herpes virus that causes cold sores is not transmitted through breast milk, but your baby may get the virus if any part of his body touches your cold sore. Consider covering your cold sore with a surgical mask, bandage or cloth while holding your baby to prevent this from occurring. Avoid touching the sore yourself if possible. If you do touch the cold sore, immediately wash your hands. Do not begin to breastfeed your baby unless your hands are clean and proper precautions have been taken. Also avoid sharing utensils, towels or other items with your baby while your cold sore is present.
Many people use medications, such as acyclovir, to treat or prevent cold sores. No adverse side effects of babies of mothers who have used this medication while breastfeeding have been reported; these medications are believed to be safe for breastfeeding women when used as directed. However, research regarding this issue is limited; the medications do pass into the breast milk. Because of this, always talk to your doctor about your specific situation and concerns before using these medications while breastfeeding.
If you believe your baby may have caught the herpes virus from you, call a doctor. This virus can be dangerous to infants, especially those under three months of age. Although unlikely, it can spread to the brain and other organs, possibly causing permanent or fatal damage, according to the medical advisory board of BabyCenter.com. Possible symptoms that your baby has contracted the virus include mouth soreness, gum inflammation, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and fever, but some babies have symptoms so mild that you may not notice anything abnormal at all. Your doctor can confirm whether your baby has the virus and recommend an appropriate way for you to handle the situation.
If your baby has contracted the herpes virus and develops cold sores, it may interfere with breastfeeding. Cold sores often are uncomfortable or even painful, so some babies may be reluctant to nurse. If this occurs, express your breast milk with a breast pump; use a bottle or syringe to give the breast milk to your baby. Call a doctor if your baby refuses to eat at all due to his cold sore.