World Breastfeeding Week: Can certain diseases be passed through breastfeeding?

It is safe to breastfeed the baby when the mother is suffering from common illness such as a cold or flu, as these gems do not pass on through breast milk. However, some infectious diseases may impede breastfeeding, either on a temporary or permanent basis as they might get transmitted. A mother should avoid or take necessary precautions if they are suffering from the following illnesses

World Breastfeeding Week: Can certain diseases be passed through breastfeeding?

Breast milk is paramount for a new born baby as its benefits extend beyond basic nutrition. It comprises of all the vitamins and nutrients a baby requires and is enriched with disease-fighting properties.

For the first six months, a new born baby is completely dependent on the mother’s milk as the baby cannot consume other fluids or solids.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): Transmission of this infection is possible through breastfeeding. The highest viral load is found in Colostrum (first milk produced by the mother). This infection is generally an accepted contraindication for breastfeeding. If mother has taken antiviral treatment during pregnancy, the chances of transmission are much lower.

Hepatitis A: The chances of transmitting this infection are highest during delivery. It is also passed on through breast milk in acute stages of the disease. In such cases, infant should receive anti-Hepatitis A Immunoglobulin irrespective of Breastfeeding status

Hepatitis B: This infection too is transmitted maximally during labour and delivery. Infants born to these mothers should receive vaccine and Immunoglobulin at birth. Breast feeding is not contraindicated.

Hepatitis C: The transmission through Breast milk is not confirmed, but better to avoid breastfeeding especially if you suffer from conditions like cracked nipple.

Tuberculosis (TB): The bacteria are hardly passed on through Breast milk, hence feeding can be continued; mother and child must be isolated if there is newly acquired infection in mother, or where treatment given is of less than 3 weeks duration.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV): The mother to child transmission of this infection occurs during pregnancy, the antibodies are also transferred; hence newborns are not affected. Breastfeeding can be continued.

Varicella: Maximum transmission occurs just before and just after the delivery. It is not clear whether virus is found in the breast milk or no, hence breastfeeding is not contraindicated.

Herpes simplex: Breast feeding is not contraindicated unless the Hermetic Lesions are on the breast. The mother should cover the lesions on other body parts while breastfeeding.

Measles: The virus is not found in the breast milk, but the antibodies are present; breastfeeding can be continued. If mother has acute infection then she should be isolated for up to 72hrs, during this period, expressed breast milk can still be given.

Mumps: Breastfeeding can be continued as the transmission is low, and antibodies are transmitted too.

Malaria: Breastfeeding can be continued, provided the mother’s condition permits the same. There is no evidence of transmission through breast milk.

If you are suffering from any infection, and you fear that you might transmit it to your child, consult your doctor immediately. Discuss your concerns with your physician, who can help chalk out the plan of action and explain the preventive measures.

The author is a consultant gynaecologist, obstetrician and laparoscopic surgeon at Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi