Breastfeeding and Taking Medicine

It is important to understand that your lifestyle, including your diet and other behaviors, can have an affect on your breast milk, and therefore on your baby. It's also very important for all nursing mothers to take care of themselves so they can provide the best care to their babies. This includes getting enough rest and proper nutrition so you have enough energy to take care of your baby and avoid illness.

Even though most common illnesses, such as colds, flu, or diarrhea can't be passed through breast milk, several medications can be passed to your child and caution should always be taken. Conversely, over the years, far too many women have been wrongly told that they should stop breastfeeding. It is important to consider both the risks and benefits of breastfeeding before you discontinue it.

The decision about continuing to breastfeed when the mother takes a drug is far more involved than whether the baby will get any in the milk. It also involves taking into consideration the risks of not breastfeeding for the mother, the baby, and the family. And since there are plenty of risks in not breastfeeding the question essentially boils down to whether the addition of a small amount of medication to the mother's milk makes breastfeeding more hazardous than formula feeding.

Remember that stopping breastfeeding for a week may result in permanent weaning, since the baby may not take the breast again. On the other hand, it should be taken into consideration that some babies may refuse to take the bottle, so the advice to stop is often impractical as well. Also, advising the mother to pump her milk while the baby is not breastfeeding may cause the mother to end up painfully engorged.

Most drugs that you take will appear in your milk, but usually only in very tiny amounts because the mother's body uses most of the drug before it can be passed on to the child. However, some drugs can cause infants problems even in very tiny doses. Before you stop breastfeeding, make sure to check with your physician about it or think about switching to a safer medication.

Here are a few ways you can check to see if a drug is safe to take while breastfeeding. Remember - always check with your doctor before changing your medication or breastfeeding patterns.

  1. Drugs that are commonly prescribed for infants are normally safe because the amount the baby would get through the milk is much less than he would get if given directly.
  2. If a drug is considered safe during pregnancy, it is commonly safe while breastfeeding. This is because the baby is getting exposed to much less drug. Breastfeeding is also a less sensitive timethan during pregnancy.
  3. Many injected drugs are not absorbed from the stomach or intestines, making them safe to take while breastfeeding.
  4. Some drugs are not excreted into the milk because they are too big. This makes them safe to take while breastfeeding.
  5. Normally, medications applied to the skin, inhaled through the nose, or applied to the eyes are safe for breastfeeding.
  6. Drugs taken for local anesthesia are not normally absorbed by the baby's stomach and are safe.
  7. Caffeine in small doses is safe. However, caffeine tends to build up in babies' systems because their bodies cannot get rid of it very easily. A morning cup of coffee is not likely to harm your baby, but too much caffeine can cause problems such as poor sleeping, nervousness, irritability, and poor feeding. Try using decaffeinated coffee and tea and avoid colas and other carbonated drinks that have added caffeine. Also, you should remain well hydrated with water, juice, and milk while breastfeeding.

This being said, there are some medications that may cause harm to your child. Be sure to review the benefits and risks with your health care provider before making any decisions.

Visit our Breastfeeding forum to talk with other women about nursing

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