Medications and breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and medications - Transcript

One of the most common situations that I’ve come across, working with breastfeeding mothers, is discovering that many of you have been told to stop breastfeeding for, maybe a short period of time, or even permanently in some situations, when you’ve been prescribed some new medication.

Of course, you can imagine this can cause a great deal of distress and the truth is that many of those medications would have been absolutely okay to take while you’re breastfeeding. Some women have even been told that they have to stop breastfeeding when they’ve had to go for a test or treatment. One such lady went to a local department in a hospital to have an ingrown toenail removed, (it was going to be removed under a local anaesthetic) and she was told she would have to stop breastfeeding in that situation, which was definitely unnecessary.

It’s actually really important to know that the majority of medications are actually compatible with breastfeeding. Even in those situations where there are medications that may pose a certain risk, there is usually an alternative.

Its 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 medications 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’s just that the manufacturers haven’t done specific studies relating to breastfeeding.

Many of these medications have been licensed to give to babies directly, and the amount of that medication that goes through into the breast milk is usually a lot, lot less than the amount that babies can be given.

There are some other factors that can be taken into account. For instance, your doctor may delay the medication for a while, that may be possible, or maybe just give you an alternative. If your baby is older than a newborn, for instance, often these older babies and toddlers can metabolise the medications much easier.

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 these hospital-grade double pumps, to keep your supply up. Pump every two to three hours; that will protect your supply while you’re getting this medication. We used to think that babies, if they were given too many bottles, for instance, wouldn’t come back to the breast again, but we know this isn’t true. Babies are hard-wired to feed at the breast, so a temporary interruption does not mean that breastfeeding can’t continue.

Certainly in the U.K, a really good source of information around medications and breastfeeding is The Drugs and Breastmilk Helpline, this was actually set up by a pharmacist who had a special interest in lactation and medications. You can ring the helpline and leave a voicemail message with the information around whatever drug it is that you’re querying, somebody will then return your call and give you that up-to-date information.

Finally, for other good sources of information related to medications and breastfeeding, please see below.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

V1 published June 2017. Next review date: April 2020

References

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