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Breastfeeding and Medications – Concerns of Breastfeeding Moms

A breastfeeding mother is often worried whether taking in medications, altogether, is safe for the baby.

Since anything ingested by the mother can also be shared to the infant or the breastfed child through breast milk, there are medications and its certain concentration that are identified to be tolerable and safe for the child.

Even with the use of over the counter medications, which are relatively safe, may at some concentration level pose danger to the breastfed child. As a precautionary measure, it is always safe to consult a physician for guidance or look for an expert pharmaceutical advice before taking in any medication.

While a medication may be identified beneficial for you and is relatively safe for children, there may be some concentration levels or dosages that cannot be tolerated by the breastfed child.

Medications can dangerous or pose health risks because the child’s metabolism and physiologic functions are not yet as developed as that of an adult and it may not be able to tolerate such medications.

Factors which Influence Drug Concentration

It is an advantage if one is properly educated on the proper use and knowing what are the factors that influence drug concentration. This will not only be beneficial to mothers but for the breastfed child, as well.

  • The kind of drug. There are drugs formulated that are found to be safe for breastfeeding mothers. If recommended dosage and other instructions related to the use of such medication are strictly followed, these drugs may pose no harm.
  • Dosage. A doctor’s prescription is needed for the proper assessment on how much of the drug is considered beneficial to the breastfeeding mother, yet poses no danger to the child.
  • Concentration of fat in breast milk. Most often, the fat in milk affects the drug action. Some drugs acts potently with the presence of fat while there are also some whose actions are altered by the presence of fat. It is also through fat that some of the drug components are transported or stored. 
  • Time and frequency of drug use. Drug formulations have different concentrations and thus, require different schedules for intake to render beneficial and desirable effects. Each drug has an established timing for ingestion or administration. But generally, it takes about an hour or two for most drugs to be in breast milk.
  • Drug interaction. Drug to drug interaction is another consideration that needs a professional’s attention. There times that two or more drugs are taken in at the same time. There are drugs that may reduce the effects or have synergistic effects when taken in with other drugs.
  • Gastrointestinal action. Some drugs require that it should be taken in with an empty stomach while there are also drugs that have to be taken after meals. An empty or full stomach may change the pattern of drug absorption in the body. Most of all, there are certain foods that are contraindicated with certain types of medications. 
  • Alcohol intake. Alcohol alters drug action, thus it is important to establish whether a mother has taken in alcohol or not before giving any medication. Such condition poses various effects not only the mother who is directly taking in the medication, but also to the breastfed child.

General Recommendations

There are times that really require one to take in medications. For breastfeeding mothers, here are some recommendations:

  • Breastfeeding is very important for the baby. Unless drug intake contraindicates breastfeeding, then there is no need to stop feeding the baby with breast milk.
  • Use of any drugs or medications should be discriminate and prescribed especially for lactating and breastfeeding mothers.
  • Breastfeeding mothers should inform their doctors that they are doing so. Be more concern and don’t hesitate to ask the doctor whether the drug poses no harm to the baby. There are various reading materials regarding a drug. If in doubt or have questions, always refer to the doctor.
  • Remember that there are tons of drugs out there. If a drug is contraindicated to breastfeeding, then look for alternatives.
  • Different situations warrant certain medication intake. It may not be advisable at all times to adhere to the philosophy of absolute no medication while breastfeeding. Seek physician’s advice.
  • Mothers who were taking in other medications while pregnant have passed on those drugs to their babies even stronger than the concentrations that could be passed on through breast milk. However, a physician’s advice should always be adhered to.

Drug Side Effects in Breastfed Babies

A drug may have its adverse effects to the mother. It is highly recommended that one understands the possible side effects that a drug may pose to the breastfed child. Watch out for these common side effects:

  • The baby appears to be drowsy and sleeps more than the usual.
  • Irritability and/or lack of interest in breastfeeding.
  • Restlessness, rashes, and vomiting.
  • Gut discomfort and disturbance.
  • Diarrhea and other gastrointestinal disturbances.

There are drugs that change the taste and even the smell of breast milk that may make a baby refuse breastfeeding.

For mothers who have no alternative but to take the medicine, it is highly recommended that they occasionally express and discard some of the breast milk prior to actual breastfeeding.

For those mothers who have to temporarily stop breastfeeding while taking medications have to regularly express and empty their breast.

Proper expression or emptying of the breast milk will help maintain a good supply of breast milk and is a good preparation when breastfeeding is safe to resume.

Not All Drugs are the Same

If you are concern of the pharmaceutically prepared drugs yet need to take in some medication, then it is important to know the alternatives.

There are various herbal preparations that are available in most pharmacies and supermarkets. Natural remedies may work as well. However, there are always substances and concentrations that may be beyond what the baby can tolerate.

To accommodate breastfeeding mothers, some drug preparations need to be combined with other drugs to reduce or improve its effects. However, the doctor’s prescription should always be the first thing that you need to seek.

Moreover, drug actions can be dangerous when there are other substance that taken in. These substances are alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, and all illicit drugs.

General Recommendations

  1. Breastfeeding mothers should avoid alcohol. Alcohol concentration in the mother’s blood is closely the same amount that is passed through her breast milk. Depending on the mother’s physical structure, the volume of alcohol taken in may take some time to reach the breast milk. Usually it takes 2-3 hours for alcohol to be present in breast milk and thus, avoid breastfeeding during this time.
  2. Cigarette smoking is really dangerous not only to the mothers health but to the baby. Toxic chemicals in the cigarettes have been identified to cause various health risks such as sudden death infant syndrome, asthma, respiratory tract infections, and gastrointestinal problems.
  3. Illicit drug use has more dangerous effects to the baby who gets it through the mother’s breast milk. Side effects can vary depending on the kind of illicit drug used on how long such abuse has been going on.
  4. Taking in of soda, coffee, tea, and some sweets should also be reduced as these may elevate the caffeine in breast milk. Excessive caffeine may reduce the iron concentration found in breast milk.

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