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Medicines and breastfeeding

4-minute read

Most medicines are safe to take while you are breastfeeding. However, some medicines enter your breast milk and can affect your baby, so it is important to get advice from your doctor or pharmacist first.

Medicines and breastfeeding safety

Most medicines are safe to take while you are breastfeeding because they do not pass into your breast milk. Even if the medicine does enter your milk, it is usually in such a small amount that it will not affect your baby.

However, some medicines can give your baby diarrhoea or vomiting, or make your baby unusually sleepy or irritable. Medicines can also make you produce more or less milk than normal.

The amount of medicine that enters your breast milk and the effect on the baby depend on the age and health of your baby, the type of medicine, how much you take, and when you take it.

Breastfeeding mothers rarely have to stop breastfeeding because they are taking medicines. However, it is important you get advice from your doctor or pharmacist. They will weigh up the risks and benefits of taking the medicine against any risks for the baby.

You should take special care if your baby was premature, is sick, or is taking medicines themselves.

What medicines are dangerous to take during breastfeeding?

Sometimes mothers are advised to stop breastfeeding while they are taking some medicines in case they harm the baby. Examples of medicines that are not suitable while you are breastfeeding include:

  • some chemotherapy drugs for cancer
  • some drugs for heart conditions such as an irregular heart rhythm.
  • lithium for some mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder
  • injectable medicines used during MRI scans
  • some medicines used to treat skin conditions such as acne or psoriasis.

Herbal medicines and teas should not be considered safe while you are breastfeeding.

What medicines can I take?

Allergy and hay fever: Antihistamines that don't make you sleepy are safe. Nasal sprays and eye drops are safe. Antihistamines that make you sleepy may cause your baby to be sleepy too. Avoid fexofenadine and cetirizine.

Antibiotics: Most antibiotics to fight infections are safe, but take your doctor's advice. Metronidazole can make your milk taste bitter.

Antidepressants: Most antidepressants are safe. Discuss with your doctor.

Asthma medicines: Most preventers and relievers are safe. It is also very important that you do not stop your asthma medicines while you are breastfeeding.

Colds and flu: You can use steam inhalations, saline nasal sprays and decongestant nasal sprays. Avoid medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

Coughs: Coughs usually go away without treatment. If you do want to take cough mixture, ask your pharmacist which one is suitable. Avoid medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

Oral contraceptives (the pill): The progesterone-only 'minipill' is best. Combined oral contraceptive pills may affect your milk supply.

Painkillers: Ibuprofen and paracetamol are safe. Avoid aspirin.

Worm treatments: Most worm treatments are safe.

Sore throat: Lozenges and gargles are safe. Avoid medicines containing iodine.

How to minimise the risk

  • Sometimes it is best to express your milk and throw it away for a few days while you are taking the medicine.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about switching to a different medicine.
  • Take the medicine a different way, for example as a nasal spray.
  • Take the lowest possible dose to relieve your symptoms.
  • Take the medicine straight after a feed, or before you know your baby will have a long sleep.

What if I need a vaccination?

Most vaccinations are safe and effective while you are breastfeeding. However, yellow fever vaccination should be avoided unless it is absolutely necessary.

You can continue to breastfeed after you receive the flu (influenza) vaccine.

Where to seek advice

Last reviewed: June 2017

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