Breastfeeding your baby with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

Breastfeeding your baby with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

My 2 year old and 13 month old both got Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) within a few days of each other. I found it interesting that my 2 year old had been more severely affected. This made me wonder did breastfeeding have an effect on the symptoms of HFMD. Reason being that I had been breastfeeding my 13 month old at the time.

The research implies that breastfeeding your baby may have a protective effect on your baby acquiring hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD). Further studies also concluded that breastfeeding had a role in reducing the chance of an infant becoming febrile. It also had a role in reducing the more severe symptoms of HFMD. The positive effects appeared to be more pronounced in babies in their first and second year of life. 

Below I have had a look at the research carried out regarding breastfeeding and its link to HFMD. I will see what they concluded to determine how breastfeeding had a positive impact on the protective effects of hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Signs and Symptoms of HFMD

HFMD is typically characterized by a fever in children, sore throat, and a skin rash, with or without mouth ulcers. The rash is papulovesicular and usually affects the palms or soles of the feet or both. 

Although rare, the severe manifestation of the disease has been associated with potentially life-threatening complications. These include encephalitis, aseptic meningitis, and acute flaccid paralysis. 

How Can a Breastfeeding Mother Prevent HFMD From infecting her or her baby

There is currently no specific drug or effective vaccine available for hand, foot, and mouth disease. 

The only preventive measures include avoiding direct contact with an infected person and carrying out good personal hygiene habits. These precautions, along with the disinfection of all surfaces and the immediate environment, remain the only effective way to prevent its transmission.

Does Breastfeeding have a protective effect against Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

It appears that breastmilk has a protective effect against HFMD, particularly in the first and second year of life. The following two studies have given some evidence of this theory. 

This study by Lin et al. set out to examine whether breastfeeding provides a protective effect of acquiring HFMD. This study was carried out in Guandong province, China, among newly diagnosed cases of HFMD in children aged 4 years and younger. 

Results showed that exclusive breastfeeding might have a protective effect against HFMD. The beneficial effects appeared more pronounced for breastfed babies aged 6 months to 28 months. However, limitations of this study were made clear where the authors mentioned that further studies were needed to prove that breastfeeding has a protective effect conclusively. 

Can Breastfeeding Reduce the Symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth in a Breastfed Baby

The symptoms of HFMD are typically mild and self-limiting, where it will usually resolve on days 7 to 10. HFMD can manifest as painful blisters affecting the mouth and skin, fatigue, sore throat in addition to fever. Severe symptoms could include encephalitis and viral meningitis. It would be reassuring to know for breastfeeding moms that by breastfeeding their baby, symptoms, particularly the severe symptoms of HFMD, could be reduced.

The following two studies showed that breastfeeding had an impact on acquiring a fever. It also had an impact from an infant developing the more severe effects of HFMD.

One study by Zhu et al. (2012) aimed to determine whether breastfeeding, along with other factors affecting the profile of fever and the disease course in children with hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD). The study concluded that prolonged breastfeeding, along with other factors, had a protective effect in acquiring a fever during the course of the infection. 

Another recent study by Li et al. (2016) showed that breastfeeding for 6 to 12 months significantly reduced the risk of severe HFMD. In addition to this, the risk of severe symptoms of HFMD was also reduced in those who had breastfed their babies for over 12 months.

How Does Breastmilk Provide a Protective Effect of HFMD

It remains unclear exactly how breastfeeding reduces the risk of severe HFMD. Experts believe it may be related to the ability of breastmilk to provide immune protection against infection. It may also be its ability to reduce the production of pro-inflammatory factors in babies and toddlers. Transfer of particular antibodies produced by the mother who has been exposed to specific pathogens may play an important role. The transfer of these antibodies could assist in the maturing of the infant’s immune system to help fight infection.  

A deeper look into how breastfeeding your baby can have an impact on the protective effects, and reduced symptoms of HFMD is yet another positive on top of the myriad of benefits that nursing your baby can provide. We realize that not all moms can breastfeed as long as they may have wanted. However, any amount will always benefit your baby.


Prolonged exclusive breastfeeding, autumn birth, and increased gestational age are associated with a lower risk of fever in children with hand, foot, and mouth disease. European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, 2012, Volume 31, Number 9, Page 2197 Q. Zhu, Y. Li, N. Li, Q. Han, Z. Liu, Z. Li, J. Qiu, G. Zhang, F. Li, N. Tian

Protective effect of exclusive breastfeeding against hand, foot and mouth disease BMC Infectious Diseases. 2014, Volume 14, Number 1, Page 1 Hualiang Lin, Limei Sun, Jinyan Lin, Jianfeng He, Aiping Deng, Min Kang, Hanri Zeng, Wenjun Ma, Yonghui Zhang

Prolonged Breastfeeding Is Associated With Lower Risk Of Severe Hand, Foot And Mouth Disease In Chinese Children The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, 2016, Volume 35, Number 3, Page 353 Yaping Li, Huiling Deng, Mei Li, Wenjun Wang, Xiaoli Jia, Ning Gao, and Shuangsuo Dang

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