Be thankful for modern medicine. It can get us through a common cold and is often critical when managing a chronic condition. But when you’re breastfeeding, every medication can get into your breast milk. While some medicines are compatible with breastfeeding, others are not. So what’s a mom to do?
For starters, do your homework. For over-the-counter medications, read the packaging. There should be information for breastfeeding mothers. And if you’re taking a prescription, be sure to tell your doctor that you’re breastfeeding.
Often doctors who are not trained in lactation may err on the side of caution. In order to avoid potential harm to the baby (not to mention lawsuits) they may tell you to wean, or to use infant formula while “pumping and dumping.”
So if your doctor tells you that you need to stop breastfeeding in order to take a medication, talk with her about alternatives. There may be another medication that is more compatible with breastfeeding, or an alternate non-drug treatment for the condition. (For example, many nursing mothers eschew decongestants in favor of natural remedies like saline nasal mists, neti pots and humidifiers.) Other times, it may be possible to delay taking the medication until the baby is weaned. Finally, ask your doctor to speak with your pediatrician and/or a lactation counselor who may know about a particular drug’s effect on a baby.
If you want to do your own research, the “bible” on breastfeeding and medications is Dr. Thomas Hale’s Medications and Mothers’ Milk. You can look up a medication and check its safety for breastfeeding. You can also call the InfantRisk Center associated with Dr. Hale at 806-352-2519. They can answer questions about drugs, over-the-counter drugs, herbal products, chemicals, vaccines, and other substances. Of course, there’s now even an iTunes and Android app that has the book’s information. (Here’s a YouTube video showing how it works.)
Another resource is the LactMed database. Type in a medication and you’ll get a comprehensive look at its safety information. Finally, don’t forget that herbs require some research as well. I also recommend reading this La Leche League article about Maternal Medications and Breastfeeding.
Bottom line, you have to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of your baby. So take the time to get the answers you need.