Can you take medication while breastfeeding?
Many people take a variety of prescription and over-the-counter medications without thinking much about it at all. But during lactation, parents are often hyperaware of what they eat and drink, worried about its potential impact on their child. That can make treating even everyday conditions a source of concern.
The truth is that many medications find their way into your breast milk to some degree or another, but it may not be a concern for breastfeeding. And just as adults can react differently to medications, the impact on your baby can vary greatly. Although many medications are compatible with breastfeeding, it’s not possible to determine how a particular medication will affect your milk or your child without speaking to a medical professional. Lactating parents should consult with their doctor for advice when taking any medication while breastfeeding (both over-the-counter and prescription).
Is (insert medicine here) safe or not?
What happens if you are in an emergency or stranded on the sofa with the flu? Do you need to book a doctor’s appointment every allergy season? And do you need to stop breastfeeding because you’re sick? (The answer is usually “no,” by the way.)
For quick or emergency reference to preliminary information before speaking to your doctor, parents can use the Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed®), which is maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM). This resource alphabetizes a staggering number of substances (both prescription and OTC medications). Each listing contains a summary of the drug’s impact during lactation, along with any adverse effects that you might ask your doctor about.
If the information online feels confusing or contradictory, parents can also reach out to the InfantRisk hotline at 1-806-352-2519. InfantRisk maintains a listing of medications and their potential effects during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Parents can access this information through the site, or through MommyMeds (Infant Risk’s app for patients).
To get you started, here are some additional notes that may be helpful:
Cold and flu medications
Despite the common myth that all cough and cold medicines are off the table while breastfeeding, many are actually considered to be safe.
If you’re concerned about safety, or if your favorite sore throat medicine isn’t cleared for use during breastfeeding, natural remedies can be an effective way to manage your symptoms. KellyMom has a comprehensive list of ways to treat colds and coughs without medicine while breastfeeding.
Try a nasal spray or a saline rinse. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) can help you keep an eye on your milk supply — and ensure your baby is well-fed as you treat your allergies.
Mental health and other prescription medications
Whether for a mental health or physical health condition, it’s very important not to stop taking any medication that has been prescribed without first speaking to a doctor. If your doctor tells you to take something, it’s because the benefits are considered greater than the risks. Avoid making assumptions or self-medicating, even when it comes to OTC drugs, supplements, and information you’ve found online.
That said, many common treatments for anxiety, depression, asthma, high blood pressure, and even immunizations are considered safe for lactating parents. Before starting or stopping any treatment, check in with your doctor.
Communicating with your doctor is key
Answering questions about breastfeeding and medication can feel like navigating a labyrinth. The key to this maze? Open, transparent dialogue with your healthcare provider. It’s absolutely critical to mention that you’re nursing when discussing any health concerns or treatment options. Don’t hold back on expressing your worries about the potential impact of medications on your newborn. Including them in your decisions ensures that you always have the most up-to-date information for you and your little one.
If you’re not sure where to start, IBCLCs can provide resources and preliminary information before speaking to your doctor, and help you determine which questions to ask. You can request a consultation here.
We’re here for you, every step of the way. We work with your insurance to provide in-home, in-office, or telehealth visits with an IBCLC.