Monday, November 26, 2012

Breast-feeding & Cold Medications

Dr. Hillary

Breast-feeding prevalence has increased in recent years. Many mothers recognize its benefits in terms of an infants’ overall health, improved immunity, and better growth.

This flu and cold season, we all might need to reach for some cold & cough remedies to relieve symptoms of upper respiratory infections such as colds. Since medications taken by breast-feeding moms may adversely affect infants, it’s always very important for lactating women to consult with their health care providers before taking any medications.

As in pregnancy, many medications can be safely used during lactation. Consider these “ground rules” when taking a cold medication:
  • Take the medication after breast-feeding
  • Use short-acting medications
  • Use the lowest effective dose
  •  Use medication for a short duration
  •  Use single-ingredient products to treat specific symptoms to avoid unnecessary ingredients

Antihistamines are not effective in the treatment of cold symptoms. They dry up all mucous membranes and may indeed worsen some symptoms.

Generally speaking, most decongestants penetrate breast milk poorly. Pseudoephedrine (e.g. Sudafed) can safely and effectively treat nasal congestion. However, it may decrease milk supply thus should be used short-term only.

A very effective and extremely safe alternative to oral decongestants is saline nasal spray. Saline solution moisturizes the nasal mucosa, eliminates dryness, and battles congestion.

When cough interferes with daily activities and night sleep, a lactating woman may reach for Robitussin DM. Otherwise, coughs should be treated with chicken soup and other warm clear liquids that thin out mucus.

When a sinus headache strikes, a breastfeeding mom can safely use acetaminophen. However, before reaching for a medication, she should try a cold or warm compress first. It’s always better to get symptom relief without using medications.

For a list of medications compatible with breast-feeding click here.

Dr. Hillary is a pediatric nurse practitioner with a doctoral degree in health promotion and risk reduction. She has worked with children for well over a decade, and answers online pediatric questions at Before she became a pediatric clinician, Dr. Hillary taught high school. Her hobbies include gardening, cooking, and traveling.

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