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Medicines and breastfeeding

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Many medicines are safe to use while breastfeeding.
  • Avoid using medicines and complementary medicines that aren't necessary.
  • If you are prescribed medication, try feeding your baby just before you take the next dose.
  • Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking a new medicine while breastfeeding.

Can I take medicines while breastfeeding?

Many medicines are safe to take while breastfeeding — only a very small amount of these medicines passes into your breast milk, and will not affect your baby.

Before your doctor prescribes a medicine, make sure they know that you are breastfeeding.

If you forget, check that the medicine is ok to take while breastfeeding with your pharmacist.

Can medicines affect my breastfed baby?

Some medicines can cause your baby to have diarrhoea or make them sleepy or irritable. Other medicines can change your breast milk supply.

The amount of medicine that enters your breast milk and the effect on your baby depends on:

  • the type of medicine
  • the dose — how much you take
  • when you take it

What medicines can I take while breastfeeding?

Allergy and hay fever medicines: antihistamines that do not make you sleepy are considered safe while breastfeeding. Nasal sprays and eye drops are safe. Antihistamines that make you sleepy are not recommended because they may make your baby sleepy.

Antibiotics: most antibiotics used to fight bacterial infections are safe but always take your doctor's advice. Tetracyclines may be used short term. Metronidazole can make your breast milk taste bitter.

Antidepressants: some antidepressants are safe. Talk with your doctor.

Asthma medicines: most preventers and relievers are safe. It's very important that you do not stop your asthma medicines while you are breastfeeding.

Cold and flu medicine: it's best to use saline nasal sprays and decongestant nasal sprays. Avoid medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

Cough medicines: ask your pharmacist to suggest a suitable cough linctus.

Oral contraceptives (the pill): the progesterone-only mini pill is best while breastfeeding. The pill (combined oral contraceptive pill) should not be taken.

Painkillers: paracetamol is safe to take at the recommended dose while breast feeding. Ibuprofen should only be taking in low doses for a short time. Low doses of aspirin, less than 150mg daily, are considered safe to take.

Worm treatments: most worm treatments are safe to take when breastfeeding.

Sore throat medicines: lozenges are safe to use in moderation — too many can cause diarrhoea. A salt water gargle or drinking lemon and honey may also ease your sore throat. Avoid gargles containing povidone-iodine.

What if I need a vaccination?

Most vaccinations are safe and effective while you are breastfeeding.

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

However, yellow fever vaccination should only be given if needed.

How can I minimise the risk to my baby?

Ask your doctor about ways to reduce the amount of medicine that goes into your breast milk. It may be possible to:

  • take a lower dose of your medicine
  • take it for a shorter period
  • take a quicker acting form of medicine

The amount of medicine in your body is lowest just before you take your next dose. This is a good time to feed your baby.

When taking any medicine, watch for signs of possible side effects in your baby. These may be:

  • increased sleepiness
  • rash
  • bad diarrhoea

What medicines are dangerous to take when breastfeeding?

You may be advised to stop breastfeeding while you are taking some medicines, in case they harm your baby.

Examples of medicines that are not suitable while you are breastfeeding are:

  • some anti-cancer drugs
  • lithium for some mental health conditions
  • injectable medicines used during some scans

For some medicines, you may be advised to stop breastfeeding for a short period of time — hours or days. In these cases, it's best to express and discard your milk. This will keep up your milk supply.

Can I use complementary medicines while breastfeeding?

Complementary medicines, including vitamin and mineral supplements, herbal preparations and natural medicines, may also have risks for your baby.

You should always talk to your doctor or midwife before taking a herbal medicine or tea.

Like other medicines, complementary medicines can:

  • have side effects
  • cause allergic reactions
  • interact with your prescription medicines

With most herbal and traditional medicines, there is not enough research to check their safety when breastfeeding. It's always best to ask your health professional for advice.

Resources and support

To check the safety of your medicines you can talk with:

For help and advice with breastfeeding you can talk with:

You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2023

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