Breastfeeding and medications

A common situation I come across, in supporting breastfeeding mothers, is discovering that many are to stop breastfeeding for either a short period of time or even permanently in some situations, after having medication prescribed.

This can cause a great deal of distress. 

The truth is that many medications are compatible while breastfeeding. Some doctors tell women to stop breastfeeding when they have needed to undergo a test or treatment.

One such lady went to a local department in a hospital to have an ingrown toenail removed (where she needed a local anesthetic), and told she would have to stop breastfeeding, which was unnecessary.

It’s important to know that the majority of medications are compatible with breastfeeding.

Even in situations where drugs may pose a certain risk, there is usually an alternative.

It’s vitally important, however, that you seek out information about any medication from a really good source, and be aware that the information leaflets that you get inside packets of medicines will often say ‘not compatible with breastfeeding.’

Please be aware that this doesn’t mean that the medication will necessarily be harmful to your baby.

It means that the manufacturers haven’t yet done specific studies relating to breastfeeding.

Many of these medications are licensed to give to babies directly. You will find that the amount of that medication that goes through into the breast milk is usually a lot less than the amount that babies are given.

If you find yourself needing to start a new medication which is NOT compatible with breastfeeding, your doctor could delay the medication for a while, or give you an alternative.

Also, please note that older babies and toddlers can metabolize drugs much easier than newborns.

Even in the worst-case scenario, where you find that you do have to stop breastfeeding for a time, you can still keep up your supply by pumping your milk.

Get a really good quality pump. You can rent hospital-grade double pumps, to keep your supply up. Pump every two to three hours, which will protect your supply while you’re receiving this medication. 

It used to be thought that babies given too many bottles would not be able to come back to the breast again, but we now know this isn’t true.

Babies are hard-wired to feed at the breast, so a temporary interruption does not mean that breastfeeding cannot continue.

In the U.K, an excellent source of information around medications and breastfeeding is The Breastfeeding Network website, where it is possible to contact a pharmacist who has a particular interest in lactation and medications.

It is possible to communicate with her by email regarding any specific drug, where accurate information is provided.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022

References

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