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Is It Safe to Take Medications While Breastfeeding?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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The issue of whether women can take medications while breastfeeding depends on the type of medication. An article discussing it is insufficient to the question and what is really needed if any medicines are used is doctor’s advice as to the safety for the nursing child. Some medications are considered safe, others may not be adequately tested, and still others have been shown to cause harm. Each medication must be evaluated alone to determine risk, and women should always ask doctors about whether a medicine can safely be used during breastfeeding.

When using medications while breastfeeding is considered, some information can help determine the best course. Medications either do or don’t pass into breastmilk, and companies who manufacture them may have studied this. A medication that doesn’t pass to the nursing baby is usually safer.

The next question to ask is what effects medication in the breastmilk might have on the baby or toddler. Again, pharmaceutical companies may have studied this matter. If evidence is available, it makes it possible to determine what risks the nursing baby hazards during maternal medication use. Nursing moms may have more trouble finding information on certain types of medications like vitamin supplements, and herbal or homeopathic formulas. These tend not to be as rigorously studied, and mothers should consider whether it is worth an unknown risk to take them.

If there are problems with using medications while breastfeeding, women may have several options available to them. Should a medication be required for a short duration, a baby can be switched to formula while mom pumps and expresses milk that is thrown out, so that her milk supply is maintained. When the medication is out of the system, women can resume breastfeeding. With planning, some moms are able to pump extra milk in advance of taking a medication so that they can keep babies on a breastmilk diet, but the ability to do this may depend on how long the medication is required.

The alternative, and especially if medication will be used for a long time, is to switch the baby to formula, or possibly the baby is ready to be weaned and can begin solid foods. Though some women may prefer to continue breastfeeding, usually the medication is necessary to support the health of the mother, but at the same time it poses too high a risk to the nursing child to continue with nursing.

Pediatricians and obstetricians may keep a list of over the counter and prescribed medications that are safe to use. It’s helpful for moms to have this list when they consider medications while breastfeeding that treat simple conditions like colds, flus, or upset stomachs. Unless told otherwise, women should always view any other drug as potentially dangerous and speak to their doctors about its possible risks. They may also get some advice from the Internet on drug safety, but this information is unreliable and should never be substituted for physician guidance.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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