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Hepatitis C And Breastfeeding: Can It Be Passed Through Breast Milk?


Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation. Mothers may wonder if breastfeeding poses a risk of transmitting hepatitis C to their newborns. Understanding transmission chances, preventive steps, and symptoms allow nursing mothers with hepatitis C to make informed feeding choices.

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmitted through contact with infected blood. It can manifest as either acute or chronic hepatitis. Many people have the virus without realizing it. Over time it can cause serious liver damage if untreated.

Hepatitis C And Breastfeeding Is Transmission Possible

What Are The Risks Of Hepatitis C Transmission Through Breastfeeding?  

According to available research, the overall risk is low – less than 5% chance. HCV is not detected in breast milk. Instead, infection is thought to sometimes occur through close contact with mom’s blood, often invisible in amounts too small to see. However, precautions lower risks even further.

Here are some key points about the risks of hepatitis C transmitted through breastfeeding:

  • The overall risk is considered low, with less than a 5% chance of infecting the infant.
  • The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is not actually detected in breast milk. Transmission occurs through contact with infected maternal blood.
  • Cracked or bleeding nipples increase the risk of exposure to blood containing HCV.
  • Poor breast hygiene like failing to wash hands before nursing also heightens contamination chances.
  • HCV viral load in the mother impacts transmission chances. The higher the load, the greater the risk.
  • Mothers who have completed HCV treatment and cleared the virus have zero risk of transmission.
  • Breastfed infants born to HCV-positive mothers should undergo testing to confirm infection did not occur.

Abstaining from breastfeeding does not remove all HCV transmission risks to the infant. Close contact facilitates transmission too.

How To Protect Baby From Hepatitis C Transmission?

  • Wash hands and breasts before nursing and after diaper changes.
  • Ensure no cracked/bleeding nipples which raises the risk.
  • Cover any lesions/open cuts on breasts with bandages.  
  • Avoid breast engorgement and plugged ducts which could cause the mother’s blood and HCV in milk ducts. 
  • Do not share items that could spread blood between mouths like utensils.
  • Disinfect any blood spills thoroughly.
  • Go for HCV therapy to reach undetectable status which eliminates transmission risk.

What Are The Symptoms Of Hepatitis C In Babies?

Most HCV-infected newborns are asymptomatic, making routine testing important. When babies do show symptoms, they may include: 

  • Jaundice 
  • Irritability
  • Failure to thrive/poor weight gain
  • Gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea or vomiting
  • Enlarged liver or spleen 

How Is Hepatitis C Diagnosed In Babies?

  • Routine blood testing at birth for mothers known to have hepatitis C.
  • HCV RNA viral load testing is high-risk.
  • Liver function bloodwork looking for elevated enzymes.
  • HCV antibody testing which is passed from the mom can stay in the baby’s blood for 18 months.
  • PCR tests look for actual viruses versus just antibodies.  

How is Hepatitis C Treated in Babies?

  • Most children clear HCV without treatment by ages 2-5 as the immune system matures. 
  • Antiviral drugs like ledipasvir are well tolerated but reserved for those showing liver damage progression.
  • Monitoring through bloodwork every 6-12 months to assess disease activity.
  • Liver biopsy if bloodwork indicates worsening liver inflammation.
  • Liver transplant if cirrhosis develops and is life-threatening.

Can I Breastfeed If I Have Hepatitis C?

Yes, HCV is not a contraindication to breastfeeding. The benefits of nursing and close bonding outweigh the very low transmission risks with precautions. Doctors recommend:

  • Disclose HCV status to the pediatrician to initiate proper newborn testing.
  • Adhere to preventive steps like handwashing, covering lesions, and monitoring for cracked nipples.
  • Go for HCV therapy when eligible to reach the undetectable status that prevents transmission.
  • Stop nursing if nipples are cracked/bleeding until resolved. Pump and discard milk until healed.


While hepatitis C transmission through nursing is possible but uncommon, precautions enable mothers with HCV to safely breastfeed, allowing children to benefit from a longer duration of breast milk’s optimal nutrition. Seeking medical guidance ensures ideal nutrition and protection.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Should I pump and dump milk if I have hepatitis C?

No, HCV is not detected in milk, only in blood. Pumping and dumping are unnecessary unless nipples are bleeding.

2. Does past HCV infection protect babies if the mom was treated?  

Yes, if the mom completed HCV treatment and cleared the virus prior to birth, the transmission risk is zero.

3. When do most HCV infections in infants resolve?

Over 85% of infected infants clear HCV on their own by ages 2-5 without treatment as immunity strengthens.

4. Does a C-section prevent HCV transmission at birth?

No, the delivery method does not change transmission risk which occurs from exposure to the mom’s blood, not the birth canal.

5. Does HCV affect milk supply?

No, hepatitis C does not affect the quality or quantity of breast milk. Supply issues would be unrelated.

In summary, following basic precautions allows mothers with hepatitis C to safely breastfeed their babies and provide the well-documented benefits of nursing. Seeking counsel from medical providers ensures ideal nutrition and protection.

Dr. Harold Gojiberry is not just your ordinary General Practitioner; he is a compassionate healthcare provider with a deep commitment to patient well-being and a passion for literature. With extensive medical knowledge and experience, Dr. Gojiberry has made a significant impact in the field of healthcare, particularly in the area of liver diseases and viral hepatitis.

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