Breastfeeding Through Medical Issues

Sometimes even super moms get sick.  Even illnesses like a cold can make nursing challenging.  So what happens when a nursing mom gets really sick or needs surgery? The vast majority of the time nursing mamas can continue their nursing relationship despite the issues with a lot of support and some creativity.

On a sunny June day, 3 years ago, I had gone to the doctor and was diagnosed with a kidney infection.  I filled my antibiotics and went home, I really didn’t feel that badly, so the kids and I played outside with the neighbors, about 2 pm, my back started to hurt a lot. I thought I pulled a muscle or something. I planned on having my husband rub it for me when he got home.  Over the next 2 hours the pain became unbearable, I tried laying down then I tried a bath.  I called the doctor and she said that she would call in a script for pain meds. My best friend drove me to CVS to get them.  I took one right there. The pain got worse.  I called my husband begging him to come home to take me to the hospital.

At the ER I was given strong pain medicine and a CT scan, my kidney was full of stones and completely obstructed.  It was the three times the size of the other one and I needed surgery to relieve the pressure.

The next day I had the first of many surgeries to fix my kidney.

Meg, my youngest (at that time) was exclusively breastfed. She did not take bottles, and really was not much a food eater.  Thank heavens my neighbor was able to care for her until my mom came down.  But no one could get her to eat.  My great friend, who I miss dearly, came and nursed her for me (this may not work for everyone, but it worked for us).

Since that day, I have had many more surgeries, and even more hospital stays, but even now three years later, Meg, and her younger brother have continued to nurse.  Here is how we have managed.

Infant Risk Hotline (

Thank goodness for this.  I programmed it into my phone as I was using it so much, this way I could give it to the nurses, doctors, and pharmacists involved in my care.  Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are not trained in breastfeeding medicine and the default answer is pump and dump.  The Infant Risk Center has the most up to date information on medicine safety with breastfeeding and pregnancy. The people who answer are amazingly helpful and patient.

A Great Pump

The first thing I ask for when I get admitted is a breast pump.  If I am going to be in the hospital for some time a hospital grade pump is essential- this is not the same thing as a Medela Pump- In- Style or any pump available at Target.  Sometimes it can take a while to get, so ask right away.  Make sure your nursing team knows the procedures for storing milk.  If they say no- call a lactation consultant and the nurse manager.

A Plan

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, right? Maybe so but if you have some idea what you are expecting it can be easier at least.

Friends, Family and Others

You can do this. There are very few medicines that make it unsafe to nurse or breastfeed your baby.  It may be harder.  But with a great cheerleading team you can do it.


Nursing after illness or surgery can be really hard.  It can hurt.  So experiment with other nursing positions to see what works best.

Getting sick does not have to mean the end of a nursing relationship, it can make it harder, it can be challenging, but you can do it. I have made it through 2 wrist surgeries, and 13 kidney surgeries, a few chronic medical issues, and am still going strong.  If I can do it—so can you.

Elizabeth Handler is the mother of 5 children, all of whom were preemies.  She has had several breastfeeding challenges and with lots of help and support, she has persevered.  She is on the Breastfeed Chicago board of directors, blogs at and teaches pole dancing for fitness.  Elizabeth can be reached at [email protected]

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