Need help knowing what drugs and medications you can take while nursing? That is a good question many breastfeeding mothers face. Unfortunately, many doctors don’t even want to give you an answer.
My primary doctor refuses to prescribe anything during pregnancy and breastfeeding (for me, that means half my life I rely only on my OB!)
Why? For legal reasons alone, many physicians advise patients to discontinue breastfeeding while they take various medications. They just don’t want the risk!
Don’t believe me? Take a look at any package insert on your medication. The manufacturer recommends that the physician avoid prescribing the drug for breastfeeding mothers!
In addition, some doctors advise nursing mothers to “pump and dump” while taking any antibiotic, even if it is one that is shown not to bother infants!
While it is true that all medications enter breast milk, most are so low in concentration that they have really no effect! Most drugs and medications can be safely used by nursing mothers. So the decision about whether to take the drug and continue to breastfeed is really up to you, the mother!
What Medications are Safe While Breastfeeding?
Drugs and medication is a routine part of daily life for most modern moms. You may think little of taking Tylenol or Ibuprofen when your head hurts. Perhaps you have prescription medications that you take daily or over-the-counter supplements that you use regularly. While many of those medications will have little to no impact on the quality and safety of your breast milk, it’s best to question everything rather than assuming.
Most medications enter your bloodstream and are distributed throughout your body. You should assume that at least a small amount of any medication you take will end up in your breast milk. Many medications are harmless to your baby in small quantities, but some may present a danger in higher concentrations. Learning which medications are likely to impact your milk and your baby is the first step to caring for your own health while giving your baby a healthy start on life.
Is Your Baby at Heightened Risk?
Some babies are more sensitive to medication in their breast milk than others. If any of the following criteria apply to your baby, you should check with your doctor or pediatrician before taking any medication while breastfeeding:
- Newborns (0-5 months)
- Premature birth
- Weak or diseased kidneys
- Medically unstable
Healthy babies of at least six months of age can process small amounts of medication without harm. As long as you aren’t taking a medication that is toxic to your baby or that builds up in your breast milk in high concentrations, your doctor may allow you to continue taking your medication as normal.
We’ll talk about some of the safest medications to take for common health complaints below. It’s always best to check with your doctor before taking even these safe options if your baby meets any of the criteria listed above. If you aren’t sure whether your baby is considered medically unstable, check with the doctor or pediatrician to make sure your medication usage is safe.
Safe Pain Medication and Breastfeeding
Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen are considered safe for use while breastfeeding. You can find infant and child-friendly Tylenol and Ibuprofen products in most stores, so passing a small amount through our breast milk should do no harm.
Naproxen is the pain reliever contained in Aleve and some other over-the-counter medications. While some sources say that it’s safe for breastfeeding mothers when used for a short period of time, others won’t recommend it because it’s believed to cause anemia and bleeding in babies. That claim comes from a single case where a baby experienced acute anemia and prolonged bleeding after exposure to naproxen.
It’s uncertain whether that baby’s symptoms were caused by naproxen. A telephone study of 20 mothers also revealed one claim that naproxen caused drowsiness in a baby and another claim that it caused a baby to vomit. This pain reliever does stay in your body for an extended period of time, so it’s best to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen if you have the option.
Only take the amount of pain reliever suggested on the bottle. The more you take, the more you may pass into your breast milk. If you need a stronger pain reliever, discuss additional options with your doctor.
Allergy Relief While Breastfeeding
How do you take care of your watery eyes, sniffling nose and annoying cough while breastfeeding? Taking an allergy medication daily may cause concern because frequent use may increase the amount of the drug in your breast milk. The good news is that low doses of most allergy medications have proven safe for breastfeeding mothers.
Loratadine is one of the safest options. It’s used in Claritin, and you can purchase it as a generic allergy medication. One survey of 51 mothers who took 10 mg of loratadine for a week or less found two claims of light sedation in babies three months of age or younger. The babies were comparable to babies without exposure to loratadine in terms of development and weight gain. Allergy medications can also cause drowsiness in adults, but it’s not a harmful side effect.
Fexofenadine is another safe option for allergy relief. It’s used in Allegra. A telephone survey of 25 parents found that irritability was reported for three infants exposed to the drug. It’s still considered safe for mother and child while breastfeeding.
There is some scientific proof that loratadine, fexofenadine and other antihistamines may have a negative impact on milk supply. That’s expected to only occur with high doses administered by injection in early postpartum.
You may also experience decreased milk supply if you take an allergy medication that contains pseudoephedrine. Zyrtec D is an example of a medication that contains this ingredient. If you stay away from this ingredient and only take the lowest dosage needed to control your symptoms, you should experience no negative impact on your milk supply.
Flu and Cold Medicine while Breastfeeding
There are some ingredients on the cold and flu market that aren’t recommended for breastfeeding mothers. You may need to study the ingredients closely to make sure that medications designed to treat multiple symptoms are safe. In general, nighttime formulas are more likely to make a baby drowsy because they’re designed to have that impact on adult users.
Start with this list of common ingredients that have proven safe for breastfeeding mothers:
- Vitamin C
Now consider a list of ingredients that you should avoid or at least pay close attention to while breastfeeding. All of these ingredients are found in some cold and flu medications and have proven unsafe to some extent:
- Doxylamine Succinate – Limited information is available about the impact of this drug on breastfed babies. Use it only in low doses for a short period of time if you have no other options.
- Phenylephrine – It’s considered safe in low doses for most breastfeeding mothers. It is associated with tachycardia and hypertension in people who are sensitive to the drug.
- Pseudoephedrine – This decongestant is safe for babies when ingested in very low doses with breast milk. It may decrease milk supply in the later stages of breastfeeding.
- Codeine – Newborns are more responsive to this drug in the first couple weeks of life. It’s likely safe to consume in low doses when breastfeeding older babies due to the low amount of morphine that gets into the milk supply.
- Zinc – Avoid all zinc lozenges and other supplements while breastfeeding because absorption is doubled during lactation and can have a negative impact on your baby.
Other ingredients in cold and flu medications haven’t been studied enough to know whether they’re safe or not. Most are likely safe in low doses for a short period of time, but it’s always best to stick to brans that use well-studied ingredients. Guaifenesin is one ingredient that is assumed safe but which hasn’t been thoroughly studied.
Treating Constipation While Breastfeeding
If you experience constipation while breastfeeding, try to fix the problem through diet and lifestyle adjustments. Increase consumption of leafy greens, vegetables, fruits and other foods with a lot of fiber. Slow or stop consumption of cheese and other foods that may contribute to the problem. Increase your water consumption significantly. Daily exercise like walking may help as well.
If you find that a laxative is still needed, consider talking to your doctor first. Low doses of stool softeners like Colace are considered safe for most women. Stimulant laxatives have a harsher impact on your body and may interfere with your absorption of nutrients and medications. Some laxative ingredients have also been associated with diarrhea in nursing infants.
In most cases, Milk of Magnesia is a safe laxative to use while breastfeeding. You should still consider talking to your doctor to make sure that there are no restrictions for your health or that of your baby.
What is Drug is Given the Most?
Birth control pills!
Some women think that starting birth control pills right after birth will not cause any problems, but they might.
- Click here for a guide to the effects of birth control pills on breastfeeding.
- Determine which birth control method is right for you!
Thrush Symptoms and Treatment Options
Another common need for medications is for thrush treatment in both breastfeeding moms and their babies.
FDA Safe Drugs for Breastfeeding
The FDA and The American Academy of Pediatrics have published an extensive list of drugs acceptable for use by breastfeeding mothers. Unfortunately, most physicians are not even aware of this. So it may be your job to (ever so politely) bring this to their attention! Click here for more information about which drugs are considered safe.
Drugs to Increase Breast Milk Supply
Although some doctors prefer that you use an herb like fenugreek to increase milk supply, there are also medications that increase it as well.
Drugs and Medications to Avoid when Breastfeeding
Not all medications are compatible with breastfeeding. There are some drugs and medications that are unsafe for your child when breastfeeding.
Some of these drugs can be still be taken by a nursing mother if she stops breastfeeding for a few days or weeks. If you decide to do this, you will need to pump your milk and discard it during this time to keep a good milk supply. Click here for more information about which drugs are not safe for your baby.
Did You know That You Can Reduce the Amount of Alcohol or Drugs in Breastmilk?
If you must take medications, you can still reduce your baby’s exposure to the drug. Click here to learn ways to reduce the amount of alcohol or drugs in your breastmilk.
More about Breastfeeding and Alcohol
What about Smoking, Nicotine Patches and Marijuana?
- Click here for complete information about smoking and breastfeeding.
- To learn the effects of using marijuana while breastfeeding, click here.
Still Unsure if A Drug is Safe?
If you are still unsure you can check the American Academy of Pediatrics’ list of Maternal Medication Usually Compatible with Breastfeeding
or click on any of the common medication names below to find out if they are safe for nursing mothers:
Taking Supplements While Breastfeeding
Most supplements aren’t tested or regulated by the FDA before hitting store shelves. Some are also distributed through network marketers with no testing or verification of marketing claims. That makes supplements a riskier option when you’re breastfeeding. While most are likely harmless to you or the baby in small amounts, it’s best to do some research into the ingredients before you take any supplement.
If you aren’t sure about the safety of a supplement, contact your doctor before use. You may also decide to stick with a simple vitamin and healthy lifestyle until your baby is at least six months old. The older your baby, the less likely you are to overwhelm their kidneys with supplements and medications. You should also take greater precautions if your baby has a compromised health status due to any medical condition.
Delaying the use of medications and supplements is a sacrifice worth making. You’re arming your baby with a strong immune system to fight off the germs that are bound to come their way in the years to come. Breastfeeding is the best medicine for your growing baby, and you want to deliver the healthiest, safest milk possible.