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Common Medications Not to Take While Breastfeeding

Aspirin, Alone or as Part of a Mixture, Should Not Be Taken While Breastfeeding

By Maureen Salamon

Updated April 28, 2009

(LifeWire) - Many breastfeeding mothers choose to avoid all common medications, as they did when they were pregnant. But for some nursing women with acute or chronic conditions, taking common medications might be the safest route for them and their babies.

Nursing mothers have significant leeway in treatment options because most drugs pass through breast milk in such small amounts that infants aren't affected. Only a few common medications are considered too risky for breastfeeding women, and only one over-the-counter (OTC) drug should not be taken: aspirin (salicylic acid).

Aspirin's blood-thinning properties sometimes cause rashes or bleeding abnormalities in breastfed babies. Combination products, including cough or cold remedies that contain aspirin, should also be avoided.

Cautions on Drugs

The FDA requires labels on all medications, whether prescription or OTC, to warn breastfeeding women of possible effects. New labeling rules proposed by the FDA would expand this information significantly, offering breastfeeding mothers a detailed explanation of a drug's risks and ways to minimize a nursing infant's exposure.

A label's drug risk summary would state, for example, whether the medication is compatible with breastfeeding, whether it  would show up in breast milk and whether it would affect milk production and nursing infants. Another section would offer ways to minimize exposure of the drug to the infant, to monitor and respond to potential drug effects in the baby and to adjust the dosage if needed to reduce risks.

Breast milk has long been considered the ideal food for new babies, and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that infants be breastfed until they are at least 12 months old. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 74% of new babies in 2005 were breastfed, and about 43% were still nursing at six months and 21% at a year.

Medications to Avoid

A few prescriptions are considered too risky for a nursing infant:

Ergostat, Medihaler Ergotamine (ergotamine): Medications that include the migraine headache drug ergotamine can cause vomiting, diarrhea and convulsions in babies.

Rheumatrex, Trexall (methotrexate): This anticancer and arthritis drug can suppress a baby's immune system.

Parlodel (bromocriptine): Used to treat Parkinson's disease and pituitary gland tumors, it can diminish milk supply.

Chemotherapy: Various cancer chemotherapy drugs.

Lithium: Used to treat bipolar disorder, lithium passes to breast milk in significant amounts. Doctors can test the amount of lithium in a nursing infant's bloodstream and adjust or eliminate it.

All nursing mothers should review their medication needs with their doctors and switch to safer drugs if possible.


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LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Maureen Salamon is a New Jersey-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications.

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