world breastfeeding week

Guidelines for the safe use of medication while breastfeeding

There is a probability that you may be required to take certain medications either due to a pre-existing condition or after having your baby. Some of the medications will play an important role in your decision to breastfeed. Availability of good quality advice from a healthcare professional and an understanding of the guidelines for the safe use of medication in lactation are essential to protect your baby, and also to prevent unnecessary interruptions to breastfeeding. Most medicines pass into breast milk to some degree; generally only around 1 to 2 percent depending on the drug. Therefore, always tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are breastfeeding your baby.

In our series of blogs for ‘World Breastfeeding Week’ Sidra’s breastfeeding support team shares some guidelines for the safe use of medication while breastfeeding.

  • Generally, it is safe to continue breastfeeding when taking most medications. The overall value of continued breastfeeding is generally more important than the need for a particular drug. Taking medicines is not usually a reason stop breastfeeding.
  • The age of the baby can be important when deciding if it is safe for a breastfeeding mother to take certain medications. A premature baby may not be able to deal with exposure to certain drugs while an older baby may be fine. This is because an older baby is likely to have more developed and efficient organs to remove any unwanted drug which he or she ingests through their mother’s breast milk.
  • Consult with a healthcare professional such as your doctor or a pharmacist with knowledge on the use of medicines in breastfeeding. They will be able to provide the best recommendations and suggest suitable alternatives for you:
  • It can sometimes be difficult to find information on how much of a drug gets into breast milk from commonly available medical texts. Where there is not enough information, it may be possible to use an alternative and your healthcare provider can discuss options with you. [Note: Healthcare staff may also wish to consult resources such as LactMed or Micromedex for more scientific information on the safe use of medicines in breast milk.]
  • A healthcare professional will be able to check the safety of your medicines. If a medicine is available in a formulation that is considered suitable and safe for children, it is likely to be safer when taken by a breastfeeding mother.

Many drugs are unlicensed for use during lactation. This means that the manufacturers have not undertaken research to confirm its safety. In these situations, your doctor or pharmacist can discuss this with you in order to ensure the best for you and your baby, and limit any unwanted side effects.