What Medicine Can You Take While Breastfeeding? Drugs and Lactation

    Updated 14 April 2020 |
    Published 26 December 2018
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Kate Shkodzik, MD, Obstetrician and gynecologist
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    If you are breastfeeding then your baby is getting a healthy start in life. But in case you need to consume a medicine, you may have questions regarding the possible effect of the medicine on the breast milk. The list of medicine safe to take while breastfeeding is strictly limited and you need to pay close attention to how you combine medication and breastfeeding.

    Medications and breastfeeding: what’s the connection?

    The quantity of medicine that may transfer into your breast milk and the way it may affect your baby depends on various factors including the age of your baby, the type of medicine you are taking, the dose of the medicine and the way you are taking the medicine. Possible adverse effects your baby may have from medication while breastfeeding includes vomiting, diarrhea, unusual sleeping, and irritability. Furthermore, certain medicines may reduce the production of your breast milk, possibly leading to decreased weight gain in your baby. 

    Exposure to medications while breastfeeding poses the highest risk to newborns, babies who are unstable medically, premature babies or babies whose kidney function is poor. The risk is lowest in healthy babies, who are six months or older as they may move the medicine through their system efficiently. Women who breastfeed their babies for greater than one-year post delivery often make smaller quantities of breast milk. This decreases the amount of medicine that is passed to their breast milk. 

    Your physician may advise you to pump your breast milk and dump it while you are taking certain medicines as some harmful drugs may pass to the baby through breast milk. Pumping and dumping your breast milk may help you in keeping up your milk supply so that you have enough milk when you begin nursing your baby again. 

    In certain cases, it may be possible to take the prescription medicine immediately after breastfeeding your baby. You may then breastfeed your baby again before it’s time for your next dose of medicine. You may ask your doctor whether this approach is safe for your medications while breastfeeding. 

    Medicine safe to take while breastfeeding

    The majority of medicines, including postnatal depression treatment drugs, shouldn’t harm your baby if taken while breastfeeding.

    But there’s a risk that small amounts of basically any drug may get to your baby through breast milk. It’s always advisable to ask any of the doctors you deal with about safe medications while breastfeeding if they’re prescribing or giving you medicine.

    Other medicines that can be taken while breastfeeding include: 

    • most antibiotics
    • common painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen — but not aspirin
    • some birth control methods
    • some types of cold remedies

    Always check with your GP, midwife, health visitor, or pharmacist before taking any of them, though.

    Unsafe medications while breastfeeding

    The most widely spread drugs that aren't recommended when you're breastfeeding include:

    • codeine phosphate 
    • aspirin for pain relief 

    Talk to you GP or pharmacist before taking antihistamines for allergies or allergy-related conditions, such as hay fever.

    Drugs and breastfeeding: Does smoking marijuana affect breast Milk?

    Yes, smoking marijuana may affect breast milk. Most health experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, advise that nursing mothers should abstain from smoking marijuana. It is a fact that babies are more vulnerable than adults to toxins and chemicals. If you smoke marijuana while breastfeeding then your baby may be exposed to the active chemicals present in it, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) through your breast milk. Traces of THC are present in the urine of breastfed infants whose mothers use weed or marijuana. According to researchers the side effects of exposure to marijuana in breastfed babies are an inability to suck well and sedation. It may also produce detrimental effects on the development of these children in the long term. Herbicides or other drugs may contaminate weed that may put your infant at even greater risk. 

    By breastfeeding your baby you have given them a healthy start in life. But when talking about medications and mother’s milk you may have several questions in mind. The list of medicine you can take while breastfeeding safely is quite limited; hence, you should pay close attention when consuming any medications while breastfeeding. The amount of drug that may transfer into the breast milk and the way in which it may affect your baby depends on the age of your baby, the type and dose of medicine you are taking, and the way you are taking it. Exposure to medications while breastfeeding may pose the highest risk to newborns, babies who are medically unstable or premature babies. This risk is lowest in healthy babies who are six months or older. There are some medicines, which may be unsafe to take while breastfeeding. You should discuss with your physician regarding any safer alternative. Smoking marijuana may also affect your breast milk. According to health experts, nursing mothers should abstain from smoking marijuana due to its detrimental effects on the breastfed baby. 

    History of updates

    Current version (14 April 2020)

    Reviewed by Kate Shkodzik, MD, Obstetrician and gynecologist

    Published (26 December 2018)

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