Are you struggling with a cold or sickness and are afraid to take medication because you are breastfeeding?
Having a cold at any time in your life can be miserable, but treating one while nursing is a unique experience. Every single thing you put in your body has the potential to affect your baby.
We know how nerve-wracking that can be, so we’ve written this article to help you manage your cold symptoms safely. We’ll discuss some of the safe over-the-counter and natural cold remedies you can take when breastfeeding.
Can I Take Medication While Breastfeeding?
You might be tempted to say “no” to taking medications since many over-the-counter solutions were off the table during pregnancy. The fact is, it’s much different to take medication during pregnancy than it is while you’re breastfeeding.
When you’re pregnant, you share a blood supply with your baby via the placenta. In most parts, the placenta is only one cell thick (1). It does a great job of keeping germs away, but the chemicals that come from medication pass through it easily.
Taking medication while breastfeeding is a different matter. Unlike the placenta, very few chemicals will pass into your breast milk. What’s more, many of those that do pass through are diluted enough to be safe for your baby.
Which Cold Medication Is Safe During Breastfeeding?
Let’s look at the safety of some common medications moms might consider taking while breastfeeding.
Acetaminophen is a fever reducer and pain reliever — it’s the active ingredient in Tylenol. This medicine does move to your breast milk, but the levels are lower than the recommended dose for infants, making it a safe choice for your relief.
Ibuprofen is a fever reducer, pain reliever, and anti-inflammatory found in Advil and Motrin. It passes into breast milk but at levels safe for infants (2).
Generally, antihistamines are safe for breastfeeding mothers and can help with your runny nose and sneezing.
Still, you should choose non-sedating antihistamines over the sedating variety. Sedating antihistamines have been known to cause sleepiness in both you and baby. You should only use them under a doctor’s supervision.
Coughing can be one of the most annoying symptoms of a cold. It can keep you awake and make you sore. It might even wake your baby. So you might think about taking a cough suppressant.
Before doing so, be sure to read the ingredient label and consider these safety guidelines:
- Pseudoephedrine: While this may not harm your baby, the use of pseudoephedrine can decrease breast milk production (3). So medications with this ingredient should only be used as a last resort.
- Codeine: Codeine is not recommended for breastfeeding mothers. This is because some people are ultra-fast metabolizers whose bodies turn codeine into morphine at a rapid rate. Although this condition is uncommon, it’s not rare, and it can result in morphine being administered to your baby — with dangerous results (4).
- Benzonatate: Benzonatate has not been proven harmful to milk supply or breastfeeding babies (5). Still, there hasn’t been sufficient research on the medication, so doctors recommend mothers avoid it while breastfeeding.
- Dextromethorphan: Dextromethorphan is also thought not to be harmful to your baby or your milk supply (6). But like benzonatate, this medication has not been studied sufficiently, so it is still recommended you avoid it if possible.
Guaifenesin is the active ingredient in many expectorants. There are no studies that show how much of this medication passes into breast milk, nor how it affects breastfeeding infants (7). Because of this, it’s best to avoid it when breastfeeding.
Aspirin is not recommended for breastfeeding mothers because of the risk of causing Reye’s Syndrome — a rare but severe disorder — in children (8). Reye’s Syndrome can cause permanent damage to your baby’s brain and liver.
Natural Cold Remedies When Breastfeeding
Maybe you’re wary about chemical compounds. Or maybe your symptoms are on the mild side and you want to try something natural first. Natural remedies can be a great way to help relieve cold symptoms, making you more comfortable and maybe even shortening your cold’s duration.
Here’s what you can do:
When you have a cold, your immune system kicks into overdrive to fight off the virus. This can be exhausting — especially if you’re up in the middle of the night with your baby! While you’re sleeping, your body is not only recharging, it’s also actively fighting off the infection.
Try to make sure you get as much sleep as you can to enjoy the full restorative effects. Perhaps someone else can take care of your baby’s needs (except for feeding) while you rest. Or tuck yourself and your baby into bed and do nothing but rest.
Vaporizers and humidifiers add moisture to the air, which may help if you have a cough or an itchy throat. Humidifiers release cool mist, while vaporizers release steam into the air.
Doctors recommend cool mist humidifiers for homes that have small children. Steam vaporizers are riskier as a child can be burned by putting their face in the steam or knocking the vaporizer over (9).
Keep It Clean
Zinc gluconate is a commonly recommended cold remedy, considered safe to use while breastfeeding. Zinc works by stopping the rhinovirus from multiplying.
In many cases, zinc can reduce the duration of a cold by up to a day, especially when taken within the first 24 hours of symptoms starting (10).
A Word Of Caution
4. Neti Pot
Neti pot devices look like little teapots. But don’t grab the milk and sugar yet — you don’t want to drink from this one!
Users pour filtered water mixed with a saline solution into one nostril to push the mucus buildup out the other nostril. (I told you that you wouldn’t want to be drinking out of it.)
Neti pots might sound gross, but they can be immensely helpful for relieving congestion and sinus pain. Since it’s simply a nasal flush, you don’t ingest anything when using it, so there’s no chance of anything passing into your breast milk.
When we’re sick, we often don’t feel hungry or thirsty, but our bodies need a certain amount of fluid each day to clear toxins and function in a normal manner. Staying hydrated can also help with symptoms such as nausea and fever and can help to clear secretions. It’s also essential for maintaining a good milk supply while you’re feeling ill.
Breastfeeding moms should drink approximately three liters of fluid each day, but don’t be discouraged by that number. You don’t have to drink only water from morning to night!
Other sources of hydration might include:
- Various teas.
- Natural fruit juices.
- Sports drinks.
- Coconut water.
- Low-calorie sweeteners.
It’s best to avoid caffeine, since caffeine causes increased water loss through your kidneys.
The Final Word On Cold Medications
Having a cold is difficult for all of us, but having a cold and caring for a new baby can be daunting.
Don’t fret, though! While you should avoid medications such as aspirin and cough suppressants, others like Tylenol are safe.
It’s important to listen to your body and your doctor if you’re unsure of anything.
It’s normal to experience a dip in your milk supply during a maternal illness. Once you’re feeling better, nurse more often or add some pumping to your routine for a few days. If you’re having trouble getting your supply back, seek the help of a lactation consultant.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC