Medications and Breastfeeding
Cough and cold products, antibiotics, pain relievers… mothers want to know if medications are safe to take while breastfeeding. Our thanks to the medSask program at the University of Saskatchewan for providing these guidelines.
Breastfeeding is one of the most important activities to establish a strong bond between mom and baby, along with providing numerous health benefits to the infant. Parents always want what is best for their baby, so there is often concern about the effect on the baby when mother takes a medication.
Here are some general guidelines to help make a decision when considering taking a medication while breastfeeding:
Only take medications if needed
- Almost all medications enter breast milk in small amounts
- Don’t take a medicine unless there is reliable evidence that it will help your condition.
- Are there non-drug therapies that could be used instead?
But don’t suffer needlessly
- Most prescription and over-the-counter medicines are considered safe to use while breastfeeding
- Certain conditions if untreated can have a more serious effect on the baby than receiving a small amount of drug in milk
- Feed your baby just before taking the medication
- If possible, take the medication before your baby’s longest sleep period
- Avoid extended release products
- Use the lowest dose possible for the shortest time possible
Be aware of symptoms that could indicate the baby is being affected by your medication
- For example, diarrhea, constipation, sedation, irritability not present before you started the drug.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist what symptoms to watch for.
Sometimes more caution with drug use is required
- For the first few weeks after birth, especially if premature
- Until breastfeeding is well established
- If your baby has any health problems
If advised to discontinue breastfeeding in order to take a medication, first ask
- What references were consulted? Drug companies often will not recommend use of their products during breastfeeding for liability reasons.
- If there are alternative medications that could be used while breastfeeding?
- If you can wait until your baby is older before starting the medication?
- If unable to stop without help, use of nicotine replacement therapy (e.g., gum, lozenge) is better than continued smoking
Limit your intake of alcohol
- An occasional glass of wine, one beer or mixed drink is not considered harmful
- Wait 2-3 hours after a drink before nursing your baby
- Daily drinking can inhibit milk letdown and slow baby’s weight gain
Do not use illegal drugs such as marijuana, heroin, and amphetamines
Remember, many medications can safely be used while breastfeeding. For example, Ibuprofen is considered the pain medication of choice (for headache, joint, or muscle pain) since only very tiny amounts get into breast milk.
By using these tips and consulting your pharmacist or physician, you can ensure you take the optimal medication for you and your baby.
If you need timely advice, Saskatchewan residents can call medSask, your medication information service.
Editor’s note: For those outside of Saskatchewan, you may find the following resources helpful:
- Lact Med http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/htmlgen?LACT
Cindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.
- Download their FREE ebook: 5 Crucial Ways to Prepare for Breastfeeding.
- Download their FREE video course Getting Ready to Breastfeed.