What medications are safe for breastfeeding moms?

A new mother sweetly cuddles with her newborn baby.

Protecting yourself and your baby

Breastfeeding can help protect babies against short- and long-term illnesses and diseases. There are health benefits for the mother too, including reduced risk for certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

But what if you need to take a medication while you’re breastfeeding? You may be wondering if it’s safe for you and your baby.

Breast milk and prescription medications

Most medications pass through breast milk to some extent, so it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about any medications you’re taking and when new ones are prescribed. They can help you weigh the benefits and risks and let you know if any alternatives are available.

While the majority of medications have little or no effect on the health and well-being of the baby or the mother’s milk supply, it’s still important to check. The risk goes up depending on the age and health of your baby, such as if your baby is premature, a newborn, has an underlying health condition, or has kidney problems. There are rare circumstances when you should stop breastfeeding altogether while taking certain medications.

If you know in advance that you’ll need to stop breastfeeding for a period of time, you can pump in conjunction with breastfeeding and store your milk to be used while you’re taking the medication. Throw away any milk you pump while you’re taking the medication.

What about over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements?

Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about any medications or supplements you’re taking or planning to take, including vitamins, herbs, herbal teas, and over-the-counter products. It’s generally a good idea to avoid taking any unnecessary medications while breastfeeding.

How to tell if your baby has a reaction to your medication

Pay attention to your baby when you start taking medication. Reach out to your child’s healthcare provider if you notice changes in your baby’s eating or sleeping habits, increased fussiness, a rash, or any other changes in behavior, as those can be signs of a reaction to your medication.

The doctor may recommend that you stop taking your medication, help you find an alternative medication, or suggest a better time for taking your medication, such as immediately after breastfeeding, when the medication is less potent in breast milk.

A quick note about COVID-19 vaccines and breastfeeding

There have been a lot of questions about COVID-19 vaccines and whether it’s safe to get vaccinated while breastfeeding. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant and recently pregnant women are more likely to have severe illness from COVID-19.

Unfortunately, there is limited data on the safety or effects of the vaccine on breastfeeding women. A recent study found that breastfeeding women who received COVID-19 mRNA vaccines had antibodies in their breastmilk up to 45 hours post-vaccination, which could help protect their babies. But more data is needed to determine what protection these antibodies may provide to the baby. The study found no detectable antibodies in breast milk after 48 hours.1

Your doctor can address the risks and benefits of breastfeeding within the first 2 days after vaccination to help you decide what’s best for you.

Support whenever and wherever you need it

Specially trained pharmacists are available by phone 24/7 through Express Scripts® Pharmacy.

For those who enjoy doing online research, LactMed® is a government-run database that has up-to-date information on medications and breastfeeding safety. It’s easy to use the search bar, and the site suggests alternatives when appropriate.

You can also check out e-lactancia, a Spanish-English online database for more information.

And for busy moms, Express Scripts® Pharmacy offers home delivery for long-term medications, so you don’t have to drive to a retail pharmacy and wait in line.

Learn more about how we’re creating a simpler, better, and more personal pharmacy experience.

1 The Lancet: Biodistribution of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in human breast milk (September 19, 2023): https://www.thelancet.com/journals/ebiom/article/PIIS2352-3964(23)00366-3/fulltext.

Original posted date: August 20, 2021

Posted date: January 17, 2024

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