There is no doubt that breastfeeding has numerous benefits for both you and your baby. As you strive to provide the best for your baby’s health and development, you consider everything that goes into your baby’s body. When you are breastfeeding, this includes what goes into your own body.
When you need to take medications, keeping yourself healthy and your baby safe may require balancing the potential benefits of the medicine for you against the potential risks for your baby. Read on to learn about the benefits of breastfeeding and the safe use of medications while nursing.
Besides being an inexpensive and convenient way to feed your infant, breastfeeding offers many health benefits for your baby. Research shows that breastfeeding can lower your baby’s risk of the following conditions:
- Adolescent and adult obesity
- Celiac disease
- Childhood inflammatory bowel disease
- Childhood leukemia and lymphoma
- Ear infections
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), an inflammation of the intestines that most commonly affects premature babies
- Respiratory tract infections
- Stomach and intestine related infections
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Furthermore, colostrum, the early milk you make during the first few days of your baby’s life, is packed with nutrients and antibodies that protect your baby from infections. As your child grows, your milk changes to suit your baby’s nutritional needs.
In addition to providing numerous benefits for your baby, breastfeeding is also beneficial for mothers.
Nursing your baby:
- Helps you return to your pre-pregnancy weight quicker
- Helps your uterus return to its normal size quicker
- Decreases bleeding and delay menstrual periods
- Decreases your risk of breast and ovarian cancers
For many women, the answer is yes. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most medications are safe to use while breastfeeding. However, you should consider a few factors when determining if you should continue taking medication while nursing:
- The benefits of the medication for the mother versus the potential effects of the drug on the baby
- The potential effects of the medicine on milk supply
- How much of the drug passes into the mother’s milk
- How much of the medication may be absorbed orally by the nursing baby
- The age of the baby
- How often the baby nurses
Generally, you should avoid extended-release formulations or medications with long half-lives. They are more likely to concentrate in breastmilk.
Always check with your pediatrician or your pharmacist before taking medications if you are breastfeeding. Although many medicines are safe to use while nursing, each baby is different. The effect certain drugs can have on your baby may depend on his or her kidney development and the age of your baby.
Generally, medications present in breastmilk are more likely to affect premature babies, newborns, and babies with unstable medical conditions or diminished kidney function. Babies who are six months and older with no critical medical conditions are less likely to be affected by medications in breastmilk.
The majority of medications will transfer from your bloodstream into your breastmilk. However, with a few exceptions, most do so at low levels and are generally safe to use while breastfeeding.
The following is a short list of medications that are considered safe to use while breastfeeding:
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- celecoxib (Celebrex)
- naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve): Naproxen is not recommended for long-term use while breastfeeding because of its long half-life.
- fexofenadine (Allegra): Fexofenadine passes into breastmilk in small amounts and generally does not cause drowsiness for your baby. However, fexofenadine and other antihistamines may decrease your milk supply.
- loratadine (Claritin, Alavert): Loratadine passes into breastmilk in small amounts and generally does not cause drowsiness for your baby. However, loratadine and other antihistamines may decrease your milk supply.
This list does not include all medicines that are safe to use while breastfeeding. For more information about the safe use of your medications while you are nursing, you can refer to LactMed, a database with information about how drugs and other substances may affect breastmilk.
You want what is best for your baby, and that includes keeping yourself healthy. When deciding if taking medications is safe while nursing, you must consider whether the potential benefits for you outweigh the potential risks to your baby. Always check with your health care provider to determine if it is safe to continue to take your medication while breastfeeding. If it is not, your doctor may recommend alternative medications that would allow you to continue nursing.
Remember, there is no one right way to raise a healthy baby. Only you and your doctor know what is best for you and your baby.
Rosanna Sutherby is a freelance medical writer who has been a practicing pharmacist in her community for close to 20 years. She obtained her Doctor of Pharmacy from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. She utilizes her clinical training in the pharmacy, where she helps patients manage disease states such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and many others. Dr. Sutherby reviews and recommends drug regimens based on patients’ concurrent conditions and potential drug interactions.