One common area of concern for breastfeeding mothers is medication safety. It can be very difficult to accurately estimate what concentration of a drug finds its way via a mother’s blood stream through to her breast milk. But it is best to always err on the side of caution and seek expert pharmaceutical advice before taking any drug. Be suspicious until you have had professional guidance that what you plan to take is safe.
Although a particular medication may be fine for you, even small concentrations of certain drugs can pose a risk to a small baby or child. Their metabolism may not be mature enough to cope and the consequences can be dangerous.
These can vary, depending on the age and maturity of the baby and their size. Some of the more common side effects include:
Occasionally it is necessary for lactating mothers to express and discard their breast milk for a short period of time. This can happen when a breastfeeding mother has no other choice but to take a medication which is contra-indicated. Regular expression and breast emptying will help to maintain breast milk supply so that breastfeeds can resume as soon as possible.
It’s important to remember that not all medications are limited to those which can be bought at the pharmacy or supermarket. Herbal preparations, vitamin and mineral supplements and “natural remedies” need to be assessed as safe and suitable during periods of lactation. Combination products can be particularly risky as it can be difficult to identify exact concentrations of individual compounds.
Other substances can contain potentially harmful chemicals which pose a risk to a breastfed baby. These include:
3. Marijuana and other illicit drugs
1. Alcohol is best avoided by breastfeeding mothers. The concentration of alcohol in a mother’s breast milk closely matches her
blood alcohol level. This is also dependent on a mother’s physical size, the volume she has had to drink and the type of alcohol ingested. The current recommendation is that for every standard drink, the baby should not be offered a breastfeed for 2-3 hours. Choose low alcohol alternatives, limit the number of alcoholic drinks you plan to have and alternate each alcoholic drink with mineral or soda water.
2. Cigarettes contain a toxic combination of chemicals which pass readily into breast milk. Babies of mothers who smoke cigarettes are more at risk of SIDS, upper respiratory tract infections, gastro-intestinal illnesses and asthma. Cigarettes also lower the volume of breast milk produced.
3. Depending on the type of illicit drug used, babies are impacted via breast milk. Side effects can be sleepiness and poor feeding, and dependency for both the mother and her baby if the drug use continues.
4. Caffeine is present in tea, coffee, cola and some sweets. The general recommendation for breastfeeding mothers is to not exceed more than 3 cups of coffee per day. Excess caffeine can reduce the concentration of iron in breast milk as well.