New moms want to do all they can to protect their baby’s health. When you have hepatitis C, you may feel uncertain about the best ways to care for your newborn. Especially when it comes to a key decision: should you breastfeed your baby?
Is Breastfeeding Safe?
Yes, you can nurse your baby without worrying. HCV, the virus that causes hepatitis C, does not spread through breast milk. Studies also show that breastfed infants do not have higher rates of hepatitis C than formula-fed babies.
The virus spreads to others when blood from an infected person gets into the blood of someone who’s not infected. Babies can get the virus from their mothers during birth -- about 6 out of 100 infants born to moms with hepatitis C get infected. But research shows that breastfeeding doesn’t cause infections.
Other ways hepatitis C spreads include:
- Sharing needles or syringes
- Needlestick injuries, which can take place in health care settings
- Getting a tattoo or body piercing if tools are not cleaned properly
- Sexual contact with an infected person
- Sharing personal items that may have someone’s blood on it, like a razor or toothbrush
What If I Have Cracked or Bleeding Nipples?
It’s a common issue for nursing mothers. Research doesn’t directly say if it’s OK to continue breastfeeding or not. But experts say the safest bet is to stop until your nipples heal. To help prevent your milk from drying up, pump it and throw it away.
It’s also best to take a break from breastfeeding if:
- You have an infection like mastitis, or inflamed breast tissue
- Your breast is bruised or injured
- You notice cuts in your baby’s mouth
Feel free to start nursing again once you are symptom free.
Do I Need to Test My Child for Hep C?
If you have hepatitis C, your baby’s doctor will probably recommend testing for the virus when they are 18 months old.
There are a few tests they may use:
- Anti-HCV. This is the first test your child will get. It looks for antibodies to HCV, which tells you whether your child has been exposed to the virus. If the results are negative, your child does not have hep C. If they are positive, your baby will need more testing to see if they are currently infected.
- HCV-RNA. Your child will get this test if the anti-HCV results were positive. It looks for the virus in your child’s blood. Positive results mean your child has an active hepatitis C infection.
- Viral load test, which checks to see how much of the virus is in your child’s blood. If they’ve tested positive for HCV, doctors will use this test to see if treatment is working.
How to Keep Your Baby Safe
If your child has hepatitis C, there’s a 25% chance the virus clears up on its own. If it doesn’t, there are a few things you can do to protect their health. They should see their doctor often, have regular blood tests, and take any medicine the doctor prescribes. With the right treatment, hep C is curable. So work with your child’s doctor early on to fight the infection and help your little one avoid other health problems hep C can cause.
You can keep your baby safe by monitoring your health, too. Avoid alcohol and take the antiviral drugs your doctor prescribes. If you’re pregnant but not sure if you have hepatitis C, ask your doctor for an HCV test.