People can usually keep breastfeeding when they have the stomach flu. In fact, many health experts recommend this, as it may protect the baby from the virus that is causing the illness.

Stomach flu, or viral gastroenteritis, can be a serious condition in babies. Breastfeeding for the first few months of life has links to lower rates of stomach flu and less severe symptoms.

But the virus could still pass to the baby via the hands or through contact with contaminated surfaces. Therefore, it is important to take precautions to prevent transmission of the virus. It is also important to drink enough liquids.

Keep reading to learn more about breastfeeding with the stomach flu, including whether it is safe, whether the stomach flu affects milk supply, and which medications a person can take.

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A person can usually keep breastfeeding their baby while they have the stomach flu. In fact, doing so could be beneficial.

When a person’s body is fighting a virus, it creates antibodies. These antibodies are present in breast milk and can pass to a baby who consumes it. This can give a baby some protection from a particular virus, aiding their immune system.

This does not guarantee that a baby will not get the stomach flu, but they may have reduced symptoms or a shorter illness if they do get it.

A person should take some important precautions when breastfeeding during the stomach flu. The first is to stay well hydrated. The second is to take steps to prevent transmission of stomach flu, such as:

  • washing the hands thoroughly with soap after using the bathroom, before handling feeding or pumping equipment, or before picking up the baby
  • sterilizing milk bottles and containers
  • washing clothes, towels, and bedding in hot water
  • cleaning and sanitizing surfaces the baby touches often, such as changing tables and high chairs

There is little evidence that the viruses that cause stomach flu can pass to a baby via breast milk. However, the virus could pass to the baby in other ways.

Viruses such as norovirus, rotavirus, and astrovirus cause the stomach flu. These viruses spread through contact with feces, vomit, or contaminated food or drink.

For a person to get stomach flu, the virus must get inside their body. So, if an object has the virus on it and a baby puts that object in their mouth, they could get stomach flu.

However, these viruses cannot transmit through the air, so being close to the baby is still safe, so long as a person takes hygiene precautions.

Washing the hands thoroughly after using the bathroom is the best way to avoid transmitting the stomach flu to a baby.

Yes, stomach flu can potentially affect milk supply if a person becomes dehydrated. This can happen as a result of vomiting and diarrhea, which remove water from the body.

Another factor that could influence breast milk supply is appetite. If a person feels nauseated, has no appetite, or cannot keep food down, they may eat less and therefore make less milk.

Measures that may help a person get enough to drink or eat include:

  • sucking on ice chips
  • sipping fluids a little at the time throughout the day
  • sipping liquids that provide energy or electrolytes, such as juice, broth, or sports drinks
  • trying oral rehydration solutions
  • eating foods that have high water content, such as soup and melon

People may also be able to stimulate milk supply by:

  • relaxing and massaging the breasts
  • getting plenty of rest
  • feeding a little more often, if possible
  • offering both breasts during a feed

For diarrhea, a person who is breastfeeding may be able to take loperamide for a short amount of time. This drug is unlikely to affect the baby.

But some over-the-counter antidiarrheal drugs are not safe to take while breastfeeding. For example, drugs containing bismuth subsalicylate can pass to the baby via breast milk. Aspirin is also not safe to take while nursing.

If a person wants or needs a medication to manage symptoms, they should check with a doctor or pharmacist to make sure it is safe.

If a baby develops stomach flu, caregivers should keep breastfeeding as usual. Breast milk contains water, calories, and antibodies and is the ideal way to keep the baby hydrated.

An infant who has severe symptoms, cannot keep any milk down, or cannot breastfeed requires immediate medical attention. Intravenous fluids may be necessary in severe situations.

Yes, breast milk offers some protection against the germs that cause stomach flu.

In a 2022 cohort study, researchers followed more than 2,000 newborns from birth until 6 months of age. They found that the fully breastfed babies took longer to contract stomach viruses than babies who received a combination of breast milk and other fluids, such as formula.

The babies with more full days of breastfeeding were less likely to have Escherichia coli or Campylobacter in their stool. These are two types of bacteria that can cause stomach infections.

Babies who received breast milk for longer were just as likely as other babies to get viruses such as norovirus, astrovirus, and rotavirus, but it took longer for these common causes of stomach flu to show up in their stool. This suggests that the breast milk had a protective effect.

One of the main risks of stomach flu in adults and children is dehydration. The symptoms of dehydration in adults include:

  • fatigue
  • excessive thirst
  • dry skin and lips
  • darker urine than usual
  • low urine production
  • headache
  • muscle cramps
  • lightheadedness and dizziness

The symptoms in babies can include:

  • sunken eyes
  • a soft, sunken spot on top of the head
  • few or no tears when crying
  • a decrease in the number of wet diapers
  • drowsiness or irritability

These symptoms may get better if a person can start getting more fluids, but in babies in particular, dehydration can quickly become an emergency. If a baby has any of these symptoms or if an adult develops symptoms and does not improve, seek immediate medical care.

If an adult or infant develops any of the following, a person should call 911 or the local emergency number:

  • difficulty staying awake
  • confusion or disorientation
  • a fast and irregular heartbeat
  • rapid, shallow breathing
  • a large drop in blood pressure upon standing up
  • loss of consciousness

If a person has concerns about their milk supply or is worried that their baby is not getting enough milk, they should speak with a healthcare professional.

It is usually OK to keep breastfeeding when a person has the stomach flu. Doing so may offer some protection to the baby.

The viruses that cause stomach flu transmit via the hands and contaminated surfaces, food, and drink. There is little evidence that they can pass from one person to another via breast milk.

While breastfeeding, it is important to take precautions and ensure that objects the baby touches or comes into contact with are clean.

If a baby develops diarrhea, breast milk is a good way to keep them hydrated. For both babies and adults, getting enough fluids is essential to prevent dehydration.