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Breast-Feeding: Medical Reasons Not to Breast-Feed

Breast-feeding offers many benefits to both babies and mothers. It can help protect babies from some allergies and sickness. It is a comfort for both mother and baby. However, there are certain things that could mean you should not breast-feed your baby.

What kinds of problems mean a baby should not be breast-fed?

Some babies are born with diseases that keep them from digesting certain chemicals in breast milk. A special formula is needed for these babies. Some of these diseases are:

  • galactosemia
  • maple syrup urine disease
  • phenylketonuria

Some babies may need a special formula plus breast-feeding, such as:

  • Babies born very premature, or with a very low birth weight.
  • Babies who have very low blood sugar, either from stress, illness, or if the mother is diabetic.

What kinds of problems mean a mother should not breast-feed?

  • HIV infection
  • Severe illness, such as sepsis. (If you have a minor illness like a cold, you can protect your baby if you wash your hands while breast-feeding.)
  • Herpes virus that causes sores on the mother’s breasts (Do not breast-feed until the sores are healed.)
  • Taking medicines that can harm the baby through breast milk. This includes certain sedatives, antiseizure medicines, cancer medicines, and medicines that affect the immune system. Some mothers may still be able to breast-feed, but may need help from a healthcare provider or lactation consultant.
  • Hepatitis B: The baby should be given a hepatitis B vaccine, within 48 hours after birth.
  • Hepatitis C: Do not breast-feed if your nipple is cracked or bleeding.
  • Breast infection: If breast-feeding is very painful, you can hand-express or pump milk, or feed the baby from the other breast (if only one breast is infected).
  • Tuberculosis: You can breast-feed if you are not contagious and are being treated for TB.
  • Using marijuana, cocaine or other drugs, drinking alcohol, or smoking cigarettes while breast-feeding can harm your baby. If you cannot stop using these substances on your own, get help from your healthcare provider.
Written by Marianne Neifert, MD, and the clinical staff of The Lactation Program, Rose Medical Center, Denver, CO. 303-377-3016.
Pediatric Advisor 2012.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-02-01
Last reviewed: 2011-11-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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