Herpes is an infectious disease caused by the herpes simplex virus. It can either be manifested as cold sores in the mouth (herpes simplex 1) or as genital sores (herpes simplex 2). Herpes is highly contagious and can be life-threatening to young infants. This is why breastfeeding mothers with herpes need to be extra careful while nursing and taking care of their infants. This article contains the information on herpes and breastfeeding.
Can you breastfeed with herpes?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mothers with herpes can continue breastfeeding as long as they follow the necessary precautions to avoid transmitting the virus to their baby. Herpes simplex virus is very contagious especially when the mother has active herpetic lesions.
Experts suggest that breastfeeding mothers should strictly adhere to these precautions to avoid transferring the virus to their infant. For breastfeeding moms with herpes, here are the important measures to be observed:
Cover your herpes lesions.
A mother with herpes must cover the lesions on her body before breastfeeding and handling her baby. These are the red, small, and painful sores that can be found in the genital area, mouth, or any other parts of the body of an infected person. If you’re breastfeeding with herpes, you can use gauze pads to cover your lesions or any dressing that is approved by your doctor. This is to prevent your baby from directly touching the infectious lesions.
If you will breastfeed a newborn, consult your doctor first.
Herpes is fatal for babies who are less than 3 weeks of age. If you have active herpes lesions, consult your doctor before trying to nurse your baby.
Do not breastfeed from the affected breast.
Herpes sores can appear anywhere in your body. If you have herpes outbreak on breast, the current recommendation is do not breastfeed on that breast. This is to prevent your baby from having accidental contact on the active lesions. Experts advise to wait until the lesions are completely healed before you can resume breastfeeding on that breast. Your doctor must confirm if the lesions are already dry and healed.
Be extra vigilant of herpes on breast because the lesions can sometimes be mistaken as eczema or impetigo. If you are doubtful, see a doctor to confirm if those are herpetic lesions so that you can take the necessary precautions before breastfeeding your baby.
Do not give expressed breast milk from the affected breast.
There is a possibility of contamination when your hands or the pump gets in contact with the lesions while expressing your milk. If you have lesions of herpes on nipple or other areas of the breast, it is suggested to discard the expressed breast milk to avoid infecting your baby. Still, you need to continue expressing the milk from the affected side to maintain your milk supply and to prevent breastfeeding complications like mastitis.
The expressed breast milk from your unaffected side can be given to your baby. However, you need to be careful in pumping your milk. While you pump from the unaffected side, it is advised to cover the lesions from your affected breast to prevent contamination.
Practice good hand hygiene while breastfeeding.
Washing your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds before breastfeeding and touching your baby will help protect your baby from being infected by the virus. You’ll also need to wash your hands after accidentally touching your herpes sores to prevent transmitting the virus to your baby.
Do not kiss your baby if you have cold sores on your mouth.
Your baby can be infected once your herpes sores get in contact with his skin. Your baby can also get infected through your saliva or by getting in contact with the skin surfaces near your mouth.
If you have active cold sores, you can continue breastfeeding while ensuring that the sores or your saliva won’t touch your baby’s skin. Continue to practice good hand hygiene while handling your baby.
Can herpes be transmitted through breast milk?
According to experts, it is highly unlikely for the virus to get transmitted on the mother’s milk unless there is an accidental contact with the herpes lesions. Breast milk may contain the herpes virus if the lesion is on the nipple or if the pump or your hand touched the lesion while expressing your milk.
Breastfeeding a baby with herpes
If your baby has herpes sores on the mouth, consult your doctor first. The virus can be transmitted from your baby’s active cold sores to your nipple and get you infected. Seek advice about your baby’s treatment and how you can continue giving your breast milk to your little one.
Are herpes medication safe with breastfeeding?
If you have herpes, it is essential to seek treatment to control the symptoms. Though the medications can’t treat the infection, they can dry and heal your lesions and make them less likely to transmit the virus to your baby.
Below is the list of the common medications that are prescribed for herpes and their compatibility with breastfeeding.
Acyclovir and breastfeeding
Acyclovir (Zovirax) is the treatment of choice for herpes simplex. The oral and intravenous administration of this medication are both compatible with breastfeeding.
When using topical or dermal acyclovir breastfeeding mothers should be careful and use it on the areas away from the breast to prevent their babies from accidentally ingesting the medication. Most doctors will prescribe the water-soluble creams and gel forms of this medication. Ointments are discouraged for breastfeeding mothers because of their high paraffin content that can be risky for the breastfed infant.
Valtrex and breastfeeding
Valacyclovir (Valtrex) is considered safe for breastfeeding. This medication is immediately converted to acyclovir once absorbed by the body. According to Lactmed’s recommendation on valacyclovir breastfeeding mothers don’t have to take special precautions while taking the medication.
Famciclovir and breastfeeding
Famciclovir (Famvir) is an antiviral agent that can also work against herpes simplex virus. However, due to the lack of studies about its effects, it is not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Overall, the safety of breastfeeding with herpes depends on how the mother will practice the necessary measures to protect her baby from getting infected. It is highly unlikely for the herpes simplex virus to be transmitted in the breast milk if there is no active lesion that comes in contact with the milk. For mothers who are suspecting to have herpes lesions, it is important to seek treatment immediately so that their condition can be managed while they continue nursing their babies.
Let Us Answer Your Question!
Would you like us to answer your question? Send it in by filling out the form here and if selected, we’ll let you know when it’s live on the site!
In the meantime, please feel free to join our forum, where you can receive support and have discussion, as well as get answers from other parents just like you. Our community is pretty great, and we’d love to have you as a a part of it! Join for free by clicking here.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or licensed medical professional before making any medical decisions.