Since there is so much going around right now, it seemed like a good time to roll out this excerpt from the Mar/Apr '05 issue of The Essential Herbal from Pam Ferry. Her link is listed at the end of the article.
When Mommy Gets Sick
You are a mother, with a young, nursing child, who becomes ill. What do you do? Do you continue breastfeeding, or do you stop? First, any anger, or disappointment you may feel, is normal and to beexpected; you don't have the time or energy to be sick. All you want to do is be able to take care of your baby and be able to get through the day, with a minimum of fuss, while getting some things (like laundry) accomplished. If you have any kind of support, now is the time to ask for help. You do NOT want to use the strength you have doing all the laundry and dishes, and possibly taking care of other children without help. The most important answer is yes, you can breastfeed your child. Towards the end of pregnancy the fetus has received immunity from the mother; the baby is therefore, born with the mother's immunities. Breastfed infants acquire additional antibodies to influenza, mumps, chickenpox, and other viruses either through mom's previous exposure or immunization (mom's). This passive immunity lasts from 3 to 6 months and protects the child from childhood diseases. Except for herpetic lesions, HIV positive and in unusual cases (up to your care provider) chicken pox and hepatitis, you CAN and SHOULD breastfeed your child. Things like frequent hand washing and keeping the child limited to outside contaminants (like everyone in the neighborhood, that wants to kiss the cute baby!!), will help prevent illness.
The question of what herbs are best to take while sick and nursing is a valid one. Although it is advised by lactation experts not to take any unnecessary medication while nursing, including herbal medications, there are herbs that are safe for both mother and infant.
First, you want sufficient milk production for which there are common herbs to use which include: Simple teas or infusions of nourishing herbs such as Comfrey, Raspberry leaf, Nettles, Alfalfa, or Red Clover and Fenugreek encourage a plentiful supply of breast milk and a relaxed, healthy mother. These mineral rich herbs also protect you from mineral loss during the stress of nursing and infant care. Rotate, using one for a week, to derive the unique benefits that each offers.
Second, you want to increase the vitamins and minerals that are normally depleted during viral illness. Vitamins C (to fight inflammation and infections) and A (for eyes, and cell health) can be obtained from elderberries (my personal favorite), dandelion leaves, watercress, parsley, cayenne and comfrey, to name a few of the commonly used herbs. Comfrey and parsley also provides you with a B complex (to nourish nerves and provide energy).
Another commonly depleted nutrient while ill, is potassium (depleted by excessive urination or perspiration, vomiting, diarrhea); you can supplement this mineral by taking comfrey, watercress, dandelion, parsley and mints. For nausea, drink Fennel/Barley Water. A combination of the two herbs not only increases the breast milk, but eases after pains and settles the digestion of mom and babe.
Prepare barley water by soaking ½ cup of pearled (regular) barley in 3 cups cold water overnight or by boiling for 25 minutes. Strain out the barley and add to soup or discard. Heat a cup or two of the barley water to boiling as needed, store the rest in the refrigerator. Pour 1 cup boiling barley water over 1 tsp. Fennel seeds and steep for no longer than 30 minutes.
And of course, always remember to increase your intake of water.
So, the way a breastfeeding mom can survive the flu is to have plenty of nourishing herbal teas on hand, a quiet room where you and your nursing infant can both remain lying down as much as possible (with all needed baby supplies within reaching distance), and hopefully a loving partner to bring you soup, snacks or other “feel good” foods.
Pam Ferry, RN, Herbalist, Doula (DONA) and Lactation Educator
Mother’s Circle and Healing Herbals
editor's note: Comfrey is currently frowned on for internal use by the FDA.