No mother wants to see her baby in pain. If you or someone in your family contracts a severe sore throat, you may worry that your baby could end up sick with strep throat. If you are breastfeeding your baby, you may fear that the frequent contact you have with your baby could increase her risk of becoming ill. Fortunately, however, breastfeeding can actually help keep your baby healthy if she is exposed to strep throat.
The symptoms of strep throat include a bright red throat, white patches on the tonsils and red spots on the roof of the mouth. It can cause a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit for more than three days, swollen neck glands and sometimes even headaches or stomach pain. Occasionally, a person with strep throat will develop a red, pimply rash on his trunk. Congestion, a cough and pain while coughing or swallowing suggest a viral sore throat rather than strep. Since strep throat is caused by strep bacteria, doctors typically treat it with antibiotics.
Transmission of Infection
Babies rarely contract strep throat, most likely because of their small tonsils and antibodies they acquired from their mothers before birth. If you have strep throat, you can reduce the small risk that your baby will contract the illness by continuing to breastfeed. Once you become sick with a bacterial or viral infection, your body produces antibodies to fight the infection, and you pass these antibodies on to your baby through your milk. Your baby may only develop a minor illness -- or not become sick at all -- because of the protection he receives from your milk.
Transmission of Medication
Sometimes breastfeeding mothers think that if they take antibiotics to treat strep throat, they should stop breastfeeding so their baby isn't exposed to the medication. However, only in rare cases does a mother need to stop breastfeeding because of a prescribed drug. Even if a small amount of the medication gets into your milk, the benefits of continuing to breastfeed almost always outweigh the slight risk the medication may pose. If you stop breastfeeding for a period of time, your baby may end up weaning -- and will no longer benefit from the nutrients and antibodies in your breast milk.
If you have strep throat, continue to breastfeed on demand, so your baby receives protection from your antibodies. If someone in your family develops strep throat, limit his contact with the baby until he has been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours and his fever has gone away. The presence of a fever indicates he still has an infection and -- whether it is strep throat or a different bacterial or viral infection -- you want to reduce the risk that your baby will catch it. To ensure that any medication you take is breastfeeding-friendly, always make sure your doctor knows you are breastfeeding, so she can prescribe the safest medication for you and your baby.