Drugs and breastfeeding—what are the risks?

Breastfeeding is known to be an excellent choice for your baby’s health. What happens if you take medication?

The passage of drugs through breast milk

When a woman who breastfeeds takes medication, a fraction of the dose can travel into breast milk and be ingested by the baby. The baby’s degree of exposure depends on several factors:

  • chemical characteristics of the drug
  • amount of milk ingested by the baby
  • the time period between the moment the drug was taken and the feeding
  • administration method (inhaled drugs or topical drugs, for instance, are usually not found in breast milk)

Therefore, topical drugs (creams, ointments, etc.) usually do not pass through breast milk, but one must be careful—if they are applied on the breast before a feeding, ingestion by the baby is possible.

Risks to the baby

A fair number of drugs are considered to be safe during breastfeeding, since the amount passed on to the baby is minimal. Moreover, several drugs can be used safely in children, which is indicative that they are safe to use while breastfeeding.

However, some drugs can cause side effects in breastfed children. If this is the case, it is important to weigh the benefits for the mother versus the risks for the baby. If the decision is made to continue taking the drug while breastfeeding, a healthcare professional may recommend closer monitoring in order to detect any drug-related symptoms in the baby.

Various drugs may make breastfeeding impossible. This is the case for cancer drugs, some immunosuppressors, and certain drugs for epilepsy, as the risks for the baby are too high. Infant formula is recommended in such situations.

The impact of drugs on milk production

In addition to being found in breast milk, some drugs can decrease milk production. This is the case, for instance, for contraceptives containing oestrogen. Therefore, these drugs must be used with caution while breastfeeding. Speak to a healthcare professional if you believe that your milk production is insufficient to meet your baby’s needs.

Some useful advice

Here is some useful advice to promote your baby’s health:

  • Before taking a drug or natural health product, always ask your pharmacist if it is compatible with breastfeeding. Never take them without first having obtained information from a reliable source.
  • If a healthcare professional has recommended that you monitor certain symptoms in your child while you take a drug, stay alert and report any concerns to your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Take your medication soon after having breastfed your baby, so your body has time to eliminate part of the drug before the next feeding.

Pharmacists are medication experts. Speak to them if you have any questions about the medication you wish to take while you breastfeed or about your health or that of your baby. You can count on your pharmacist when it comes to the health of the young and the old!

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Drugs and breastfeeding—what are the risks?

Breastfeeding is known to be an excellent choice for your baby’s health. What happens if you take medication?
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