When NOT to Breastfeed

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

There are very few conditions when a mother cannot breastfeed. During simple infections and ailments like common colds, flu, gastrointestinal infections etc. babies can be breastfed if proper precautions and hygiene measures are followed.

In fact during such infections it is wiser to continue breastfeeding as breast milk contains antibodies against the infection and this will protect the baby from getting the same infection.

There are few conditions where breastfeeding is not advised. These include:-

  • If the mother has been infected with HIV or has AIDS. The HIV virus can pass onto the baby via the mother’s milk and thus breastfeeding is not allowed if the mother is positive for HIV infection or has AIDS. For such mothers human milk banks may be contacted if they wish to provide breast milk for their babies rather than infant formula.

  • Many medications taken by the mother may pass onto the baby via breast milk. While some of these are harmless, some medications may harm the newborn baby if ingested with breast milk. If the mother is taking antiretroviral medications (useful against HIV and AIDS), breast feeding is not advised.

  • Mothers with cancer who are taking cancer chemotherapy medications also cannot breastfeed their babies. Cancer chemotherapy drugs hamper cell division and rapidly growing cells. This may severely damage the growth of the baby if passed on via breast milk. Cancers as such are not a contraindication for breastfeeding.

  • Mothers who are undergoing radiation therapies especially of the chest are also not allowed to breastfeed until their therapy regimen is over.

  • Mothers with untreated and active tuberculosis infections are not advised to breastfeed. They may breastfeed after their infection is cured or brought under control so that it does not spread to the infant.

  • Mothers infected with human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II should not breast feed their babies.

  • Mothers who are taking illegal drugs like cocaine, PCP, heroin, marijuana etc. are not allowed to breastfeed their babies. This is because these agents can affect the baby and cause serious side effects. An occasional glass of alcohol is allowed provided the mother refrains from feeding the baby for at least two hours after the drink. Smoking and alcohol in general should be avoided by lactating mothers.

  • Babies with a condition called galactosemia wherein they cannot digest or tolerate breast milk are not able to breastfeed. This is because their bodies are unable to break down the sugar galactose. Babies with classic galactosemia must be fed a special diet that is free of lactose and galactose.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 28, 2013

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