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Medication Safety Focus: Breastfeeding

Breast milk is the world’s cheapest yet healthiest baby food ever. WHO advises women to feed their babies exclusively on breast milk for up to 6 months. Its is so celebrated it has a whole week dedicated internationally for it.

This annual celebration is every 1-7th August and this year it has as hashtag #WBW2018 and slogan Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life. Learn more

The sleepless nights that come with raising a baby, sometimes lots of junk food eating and stress can make it easy for nursing mothers to fall it and may have to resort to taking medicines. Many mothers are conscious when pregnant of the medicines they take as it could affect the development of the fetus.

However, not many are aware that some medicines could also be present in breast milk, even in small quantities that could affect the baby. 

Now what is a mother to do, on one end breastfeeding is so important and on the other hand they have to treat themselves. They are bombed with questions as to whether to suspend breast milk and take the medicines while switching to formula milk.

However, suspending breastfeeding could lead to involuntary weaning of the baby as some may prefer the formula milk. 

WHO classifies medicines during breastfeeding into 5 main categories               

  • Compatible with breastfeeding               
  • Compatible with breastfeeding, monitor in fact for side effects               
  • Avoid if possible, monitor infant for side effects               
  • Avoid if possible, may inhibit lactation               
  • Avoid

Key note: ALWAYS discuss with your doctor and read labels before deciding to stop breastfeeding

Most drugs are not of concern during breastfeeding. Generally considered as safe are:               

  • Commonly prescribed medicines for children               
  • Drugs considered safe during pregnancy (true most of the times, however the barrier in the womb could make some drugs safe during pregnancy but unsafe when breastfeeding)               
  • Drugs that do not pass through the stomach (injections, applied on the skin…)

However, caution needs to be taken with some medications:               

  • Contraindicated during breastfeeding: anticancer drugs, lithium, oral retinoids, amiodarone and gold salts               
  • Drugs that dry up body fluids as the reduce milk supply e.g. antihistamines found in cough and cold medicines, eostrogen containing contraceptives etc               
  • Others like large doses of aspirin, always read drug labels to confirm.               
  • Illegal drugs like cocaine and some social drugs like alcohol as they may retard baby development or affect your ability to take care of your baby.

This caution applies most especially for premature babies and those under 2 months as they have lesser liver metabolism function which is needed to process the drugs.

Get up to date information on safe or unsafe drugs during pregnancy from LactMed

  • Always let your health care provider know you are breastfeeding before taking any medications     
  • Read drug labels               
  • Look for safer alternatives if possible          
  • Feed the baby before taking the medicines so that drug concentration will be lowest.               
  • Watch out for side effects of the medicines in children.

Happy Breastfeeding week

Breastfeeding: Foundation of life

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