In February I had the inevitable happen... I got sick. Really sick. I spent 24 hours pukin' my brains out followed by a week or so of what my family would call "lower GI symptoms." Ya know what I mean? Lower G I ??? Anyway, not only did I feel like I wanted to die, and thus didn't really want to put baby's needs first, but I had a sudden drop in my breast milk supply. I was panicked (once I finally had the energy to be) that this might be a sudden end to my nursing relationship with O, months before I'd hoped. But in the end, we pulled through. Here we are, several weeks later, no worse for the wear and with some advice for those of you who might go through something similar...
First, don't stop nursing! Very few illnesses in the first world require you to stop nursing. If you get advice from your doc to stop nursing, double check with your lactation consultant and/or midwife. If what you have is viral, your infant has probably been exposed to the virus through your breast milk before you even have symptoms. Besides, as you are fighting your illness, your body is creating antibodies to combat the virus... and baby gets those through the breastmilk too! So it's a good thing to keep giving it to them. But on a more 'systems' side-- even if your body doesn't feel like it's creating a lot of breastmilk, if you stop stimulating your breasts, you will reduce the supply. So please please keep nursing, even if it seems futile, if baby doesn't seem satisfied afterwards, etc.
Secondly, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! It's important for you to be drinking LOTS of water and/or gatorade (with electrolytes). You lose more water than you think when you have... lower GI symptoms... AND you lose lots of water when you nurse. Ergo, you need to be replacing a TON of water when you're sick AND nursing.
Third, hydrate your baby. While we're on the topic of hydrating... if you feel like you can't hydrate your little one enough because of your temporarily low milk supply, it's not a bad idea to think about giving her some extra fluids too-- pick up a little pedialyte from the store (preferably the non-flavored kind... they don't need random flavorings...) and give baby a bottle of it per day. When I was sick, little O didn't love the pedialyte at first. But by the end of my week of illness, she sucked the pedialyte down by bottle. And it made Ben and I feel really good when she had nice, full wet diapers. (I know. Sad when life progresses to the point that a full diaper is what makes you feel good.)
Fourth, consider what medications you take. Most of the over the counter drugs we tend to take in the US while sick (e.g., tylenol, antacids, cough meds) are either 'safe' or have a 'safe formula' that you can theoretically take while nursing. However... most of these meds simply mask or reduce symptoms, but they don't actually make you well any faster. If what you've got is a virus, it's gonna have to run it's course. So please look up meds online -- I'm not going to go through which ones are safe here and which aren't. But maybe consider NOT taking something that's just supposed to make you feel better. 'Cause if you know modern science at all, you know that we can't really do randomized controlled trials on mothers and babies, so we don't REALLY know what all the effects are. So maybe a warm washcloth to soothe your headache is better than tylenol. Or some natural gingerale could ease your stomach pains, or a neti pot could clear your sinuses without the dayquil. You made it through labor and delivery... you'll probably survive a couple days of feeling like crap too.
Fifth, stay calm. Stress will only make the whole thing worse. I know that's so hard to hear and believe when you're in the midst of it. But the mind-body connection is something that none of us understand as well as we should. So if you can breathe and believe that you, too, will survive this drama... it will probably come true. :-)