What medications are safe to take while breastfeeding?
As a breastfeeding mom, I know what it’s like to question everything you put into your mouth… that includes medications. Many moms wonder what medications are safe to take while breastfeeding, if any at all.
Fortunately there has been extensive research done on medications and breastfeeding so there is great information for the breastfeeding mom.
One thing I want to emphasize is that this information is taken from educational sources and studies. I am a Nurse and Lactation Counselor, but I don’t have the credentials to prescribe anything to anyone. Therefore, this information is purely educational and you should consult with your doctor before taking any medications.
That being said, the CDC states that medications and prescriptions are usually safe for a breastfeeding mom to take.
Not all medications are safe however, so they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with your doctor. Some medications can make their way into your breast milk and are unsafe for your baby.
A great resource for determining if a medication is safe is the app LactMed. It can be downloaded to your phone and gives thorough information on a drugs safety while breastfeeding.
I use LactMed all the time in my own practice and when I’m breastfeeding my kids!
Things To Consider When Taking Medication and Breastfeeding
When a breastfeeding mom wonders about taking certain medications, there are three things she needs to consider:
- Is it safe for your baby?
- What are the risks and benefits?
- Will it affect breast milk supply?
Some medications make their way into mom’s milk and can affect her baby. Medications are metabolized by the body differently, so some medications might be present in higher concentrations than others. It’s so important to make sure that the medication will be safe for your breastfeeding baby.
Some medications that make it into breast milk are safe for the baby while others aren’t. But it might be worth talking about the risks and benefits of taking the medication. If the benefit of the medication and continuing to breastfeed outweigh the risks, then it might be beneficial to continue breastfeeding while on the medication. On the other hand if the risks outweigh the benefit, you may need to not take the medication or stop breastfeeding (possibly pump-and-dump).
Breast milk supply can be severely affected by some medications. Be sure to learn about each medication and its side-effects. Decongestants are a common cold remedy but just like they dry out your nose, they can dry up your milk.
Ultimately it’s important to discuss all of these things with your doctor to determine if taking medications is safe while breastfeeding.
How long after taking medication can I breastfeed?
Generally medications that make it into the breast milk are low enough they are safe. But, that depends on the medication. Some medications are more likely to reach the breast milk in higher doses than others.
It’s extremely important to talk with your doctor before starting a new medication and be sure that your prescriber knows you’re breastfeeding.
In the first 3 days after birth, there is a higher chance that medications will make it into your breast milk. Before your milk comes in, the cells in your breast have space between them which allows more of a drug to pass through. Be extra cautious with medication in the days before your milk comes in.
Although generally it’s better to breastfeed if starting a medication, if possible try to avoid medication use altogether. If you can avoid using medication while breastfeeding, your baby won’t be at risk of ingesting it and you won’t need to worry!
Do I need to pump and dump after medication?
So you’ve taken medication…
And now you wonder what to do about the next feeding!
Before you do anything else, call your doctor. You may not need to pump and dump (don’t waste that liquid gold if you don’t need to).
If the medication you’ve taken is safe while breastfeeding then you don’t need to worry. Remember that formula isn’t nearly as beneficial as breast milk so don’t throw your milk away unless you know it’s unsafe.
If your doctor advises you to pump and dump, you NEED to think about your milk supply!
It isn’t enough to just skip the feeding. You’ll need to express the breast milk (to get rid of the miedcation). Additionally, you will need to express enough breast milk that your body maintains your milk supply.
Breast milk supply is dependent on demand so pump at your baby’s usual feeding time… don’t go too long without pumping!
If you have questions about pumping and dumping and maintaining your milk supply, find a local lactation consultant or contact me for help.
What pain medication is safe while breastfeeding?
Perhaps the most common question about medication and breastfeeding is about pain medication.
Postpartum can HURT.
Between c-section recovery, episiotomy wounds, after-birth pains or a headache from lack of sleep- mom’s need relief!
They wonder what medications are safe while breastfeeding. The good news is that some of the most common pain medications are considered safe!
In the following section, the information is taken from LactMed, not a personal recommendation from myself (remember I’m not a prescriber so I can’t recommend anything – you need to talk to your doctor!)
What pain meds are safe while breastfeeding?
The following information is from LactMed, a widely available resource and a wealth of fantastic information about medications for a breastfeeding mom.
The two pain medications that are safe while breastfeeding are: Tylenol (or acetaminophen) and Ibuprofen.
Here’s what LactMed has to say about them:
- Ibuprofen: ”Because of its extremely low levels in breastmilk, short half-life and safe use in infants in doses much higher than those excreted in breastmilk, ibuprofen is a preferred choice as an analgesic of antiinflammatory agent in nursing mothers.”
- There were at least 23 studies where the baby had no side effects reported from mom taking ibuprofen.
- Ibuprofen shouldn’t affect your milk supply.
- Acetaminophen: ”Acetaminophen is a good choice for analgesia, and fever reduction in nursing mothers. Amounts in milk are much less than doses usually given to infants. Adverse effects in breastfed infants appear to be rare.”
- There were a few studies of Tylenol where there were mild reactions, but nothing concerning for the baby’s overall health.
- Tylenol should not affect your milk supply or breastfeeding.
What is safe cold medicine while breastfeeding?
Another common question about medication and breastfeeding is what to take when you have a cold. Again, medication recommendations are not my own and you should ultimately consult your doctor before taking anything.
For breastfeeding moms with a cold, remember that the most important thing for your baby is to keep breastfeeding! They can’t catch your cold from breast milk – and your milk actually has sickness-fighting antibodies that can prevent them from getting sick (or help them recover faster if they do).
What cold medicine can I take while breastfeeding?
As far as cold medication while breastfeeding, the recommendations are about the same as for pain medication. Ibuprofen and Tylenol are the top suggested medications because they’re considered safe.
The amount of Ibuprofen or Tylenol that makes it into your breast milk is much smaller that a typical dose that is given to a newborn baby.
The most important decongestant to avoid is pseudoephedrine. It works by drying up your airways… but it also dries out the rest of you!
That means it can greatly reduce your milk supply.
The BEST option when your sick is to try using natural remedies. They don’t affect your milk supply and can be effective in offering relief from a cold.
Natural remedies for a cold include:
- Sleep. Try to rest as much as you can! I know it’s hard with a baby but resting will help you recover faster.
- Humidifier or a steamy shower. If you are congested, this is one of the best ways to help relieve the head pressure. Keeping your airways moist will offer relief and steam from a hot shower can loosen up the stuffiness.
- Gargle with salt water. This is great for a sore throat! The salt not only soothes but it helps you recover from a cold faster by cleaning out the virus and reducing inflammation.
- Saline nose rinse. This is a good treatment option to help you clear out your stuffy nose. It’s available at the pharmacy, and won’t affect breastfeeding!
- Vitamin C. Try eating some oranges or kiwis that are packed full of vitamin C! Vitamin C can help your body fight off a cold fast, and eating healthy fruits is a yummy bonus.
Remember that it’s important to keep breastfeeding even if you’re sick! You can wear a mask while breastfeeding if you’re worried about transferring the sickness to your baby.
Your body creates antibodies against the cold that you have and puts them into your breast milk, so breastfeeding is the safest remedy for your baby.
Try to avoid coughdrops with menthol in them because menthol can decrease your milk supply. Instead, opt for hard candies or throat lozenges without menthol in them.
And as for aspirin, it’s best to avoid using it if possible (again, discuss this with your doctor). Aspirin can cause Reye’s syndrome in children and infants, so go for the tried and true Ibuprofen or Tylenol instead!
Breastfeeding and Medications
Ultimately, medication use and breastfeeding should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Each mommy and baby is unique and each breastfeeding journey different.
What might work for you won’t work for another mom.
Additionally, you and your doctor can discuss the risk-versus-benefit to taking medications. The number of medications you can take while breastfeeding is immense. It ranges from antidepressants and pain medications to anti-cancer medications (most of which AREN’T safe for breastfeeding by the way).
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call your doctor. They will be the best person to help you determine what medications you can take while breastfeeding.
Breast milk is extremely valuable for your baby. And what you put into your body can affect it. Download LactMed if you want to do your own research, and don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about medications. And if your doctor doesn’t know, make sure you tell them you’re breastfeeding!If you have questions or need help with breastfeeding visit my website at www.littlebearcare.com. I love helping mommies breastfeed their babies!
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.