Breastfeeding When You Have Herpes

Women in the United States with human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, should not breastfeed. But what about other sexually transmitted infections, like herpes? The answer is a little more complex than a simple yes or no. Let's take a closer look at herpes and whether this infection is a contraindication to breastfeeding.

A mother breastfeeding her baby
Antenna / Getty Images

What Is Herpes?

Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection known medically as herpes simplex virus, or HSV. There are two types:

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1)
  • Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

While either type can cause genital or mouth/lip herpes, HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes and HSV-1 usually causes herpes on the mouth—known often as "cold sores" or "fever blisters."

Causes of Herpes of the Breast

While herpes usually infects the mouth/lips and genitals, it can infect any part of the skin—including the breast, although this is uncommon.

Herpes is spread through contact with someone else with the herpes infection. For instance, genital herpes is transmitted through genital-genital contact or genital-oral contact with another person who has herpes.

In the case of herpes of the breast, the skin of the breast must have come into contact with the infected skin of another person with herpes.

It's important to note that a person can pass herpes to someone else even if they have no symptoms or visible blisters—meaning the virus can be present on the skin without an obvious herpes sore.

What Herpes of the Breast Looks and Feels Like

Herpes on the breast looks like tiny fluid-filled bumps on a red base that are tender. Some people will experience flu-like symptoms with a herpes outbreak, especially the first one. Future outbreaks may occur, but they almost always last a shorter time and are not as painful.

In people with HIV, herpes outbreaks can be more severe and last longer due to their impaired immune system.

It's important to see your doctor for a diagnosis, as herpes of the breast can resemble a yeast or bacterial infection or plugged milk ducts.

The Safety of Breastfeeding With Herpes

If a woman has herpes on her body other than her breast, like her mouth or genitals, breastfeeding is safe, as the viral organisms or infected bugs cannot pass through a woman's body into her milk.

On the other hand, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, if a woman has herpes sores on her breast, she should not breastfeed.

However, she can express or pump milk from that breast, as long as the parts of the breast pump that touch the milk do not come into contact with the herpes sores. If this occurs, a woman should throw the milk away. 

Risks of Feeding From a Breast With Herpes Sores

A baby who nurses on a breast with herpes sores is at risk of developing a life-threatening infection of his or her nervous system.

If a woman suspects or has been diagnosed with herpes of the breast, it's critical she stop nursing from the affected breast.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding - Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Updated January 24, 2018.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital herpes - CDC fact sheet. Updated August 28, 2017.

  3. El Hayderi L, Caucanas M, Nikkels AF. Herpes simplex virus infections of the nipple. Open Dermatology Journal. 2012;6:29-32.

  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Genital herpes. Updated June 2019.

  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture, WIC Breastfeeding Support. Plugged ducts, mastitis, and thrush.

  6. Breastfeeding and human milk [policy statement]. Pediatrics. 2012;129(3) :e827-41. 

  7. James SH, Sheffield JS, Kimberlin DW. Mother-to-child transmission of herpes simplex virus. J Pediatric Infect Dis Soc. 2014;3 Suppl 1:S19-23. doi:10.1093/jpids/piu050

Additional Reading