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Is It Safe to Take Medicines When You Breast-feed?

Though many medicines are safe to take while nursing, always check with your doctor first.

image of mother and baby

Your new baby is here — and you’ve decided to breast-feed. Breast-feeding, also called nursing, is a healthy choice for you and your baby. Breast milk contains just the right amount of a nutrient mix that your baby can have.

Besides giving the most complete form of nutrition to your baby, breast milk has natural antibodies to help protect your baby from germs and illnesses. And babies who breast-feed have a lower risk of:

  • Respiratory infections
  • Stomach viruses
  • Ear infections
  • Asthma
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Childhood leukemia

Breast-feeding has also been shown to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

When medicines enter the mix

There is one important aspect of breast-feeding to keep in mind: If you take medicine while nursing, it will pass into your milk in small amounts. While most medicines are safe for you to take while breast-feeding, the drug or other chemicals in some medicines could harm your baby.

You might need to take medicine for any number of reasons after giving birth, ranging from short-term illnesses to chronic health conditions. The best way to avoid potential problems is to talk with your doctor if you are taking or planning to take any medicines while breast-feeding; he or she can help you determine if it is safe to take or if you need to take certain precautions. These include prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as vitamins and dietary or herbal supplements.

Most medicines are safe

While you should still talk to your doctor first, most medications will not affect your baby. There are very few medicines that can’t be used while breast-feeding.

In some cases, the risk of not taking your medicine for chronic health problems may be greater than the risk of your medicine harming your baby.

Some medicines are not safe

Again, while the majority of medicines are safe for you to take while breast-feeding, some medicines are not recommended. Your doctor will be able to tell you what those are for you. Keep in mind that your doctor can help you decide what your options are. You may be able to switch to another medication. Or you may be able to take your medication just after breast-feeding, or take a lower dose until you are no longer breast-feeding.

 Here are some examples of prescription drugs that your doctor might advise against:

  • Lithium (treats mental illness)
  • Statins (lower high cholesterol)
  • Ergotamines (treat migraine headaches)
  • Chemotherapy drugs (treat cancer)

What about antidepressants?

Postpartum depression is a serious condition that may be treated with antidepressants. Fortunately, few problems have been reported in nursing babies whose mothers take antidepressants. However, if you take antidepressant medicine, it will go into your milk like any other medicine. Your doctor can help you decide on a medication that is best for you.

Can I get vaccines while nursing?

Yes. Vaccines that you receive while breast-feeding — with some exceptions — will not affect your baby. Your doctor can advise you on any exceptions.

Remember, most medicines are safe for nursing mothers. But talk to your doctor about any medicines you are taking or plan to take while breast-feeding. Your doctor is the best person to advise you.

Emily Gurnon contributed to this report.

By Lucy M. Casale, Contributing Writer

American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2012;129 (3):827-841. Accessed: July 12, 2016.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Chapter 18: Breastfeeding and formula-feeding your baby. ACOG’s Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month. 6th edition. Washington, D.C.: ACOG; 2015. Breastfeeding. Accessed: July 12, 2016.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding. Vaccinations. Accessed: July 12, 2016.

Last Updated: July 12, 2016