Medications while breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is the optimal nutrition for infants; breastfeeding provides many benefits for society, mothers and babies.

While most medications are safe to take while breastfeeding, there are varying degrees of safety. Many mothers stop breastfeeding or stop taking medication while they are breastfeeding because they are concerned about the effects of the medication on their babies. The amount of drug that transfers into the milk rarely causes problems for the baby. But some drugs do transfer into breast milk more than others. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to know the risks and benefits of each medication while breastfeeding.

First let’s talk about the risk of not breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is too important for you and your baby to stop just because a small amount of a drug may be in your milk. Breastfeeding and breast milk provides countless health benefits to you and your baby. There are health risks for you and baby if you do not breastfeed. If you stop breastfeeding while you take medication, this may be the start of weaning. Often, off the breast for any short period of time can mean off the breast forever.

Your first question to your health care provider about any medication they recommend for you while you are breastfeeding should always be: Is this medicine really necessary? Avoid using drugs that are not necessary. Make sure your health care provider knows you are breastfeeding and talk to them before taking any medications. If a medication is necessary you should find out some basic information about it including: How much enters the breast milk? What are the risks for your baby taking in breast milk that has the drug in it? What factors may affect your baby’s sensitivity to a drug?

All medication gets into breast milk to some degree, although the amount is almost always quite low. Many drugs are distributed in the body in such a way that very little of them are actually in the bloodstream. Certain types of medications often can be chosen specifically for breastfeeding mothers. These might include a medication that is poorly absorbed by your baby or a medicine that you apply to your skin like a cream or ointment. You may also be able to reduce any risk by avoiding breastfeeding during times when the drug is in your bloodstream at the highest levels.

Some excellent resources for mothers who are breastfeeding and considering taking medications include the Thomas Hale book, Medications and Mothers Milk (2010). Another excellent resource is from the United States Library of Medicine. The drug and Lactation Database (Lactmed) is a peer reviewed and fully referenced database of drugs to which breastfeeding mothers may be exposed. Among the data included are maternal and infant levels of the drug, possible effects on infant feeding and lactation and alternate drugs to consider.

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