Breast-feeding and medications: What's safe?

Wondering about breast-feeding and medications? Know how medications can affect your breast milk and which drugs are safe to take. By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you're breast-feeding, you know you're giving your baby a healthy start. However, if you need to take medication while you're breast-feeding, you might have questions about the possible impact on your breast milk.

Here's what you need to know about medications and breast-feeding.

Do all medications pass into breast milk?

Almost any drug that's present in your blood will transfer into your breast milk to some extent, although the level of medication in your breast milk is likely to be low. There are exceptions, though, in which drugs can become concentrated in breast milk. As a result, every medication must be considered separately.

Does my baby's health and age influence how he or she might be affected by exposure to medication in my breast milk?

Yes.

Exposure to medication in breast milk poses the greatest risk to premature babies, newborns, and babies who are medically unstable or have poorly functioning kidneys. The risk is lowest for healthy babies 6 months and older.

Should I stop breast-feeding while taking medication?

Most medications are safe to take while breast-feeding. Also, the benefit of continuing to take a medication for a chronic condition while breast-feeding often outweighs any potential risks.

Still, some medications aren't safe to take while breast-feeding.

If you currently take a medication that could be harmful to your baby, your health care provider might be able to recommend a safe alternative medication. If not, he or she might recommend that you stop breast-feeding temporarily or permanently — depending on how long you need to take the medication.

If you need to stop breast-feeding only temporarily, use a breast pump to keep up your milk supply until you're able to breast-feed again. Simply discard the milk you pump while you're taking the medication.

If you need to stop breast-feeding permanently — which is unusual — ask your health care provider to help you choose an infant formula that will meet your baby's needs.

Jul. 26, 2012 See more In-depth