Are you struggling with a cold or sickness and are afraid to take medication because you are breastfeeding your baby?
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 that can be nerve-wracking.
In this article, we discuss some of the safe cold remedies to take during 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, many chemicals do not pass into your breastmilk at all. What’s more, many of those that do pass through are diluted and 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. They should only be used under a doctor’s supervision.
Coughing can be one of the most annoying symptoms when you have a cold. It can keep you awake and make you sore. Maybe it even wakes 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 has been shown to decrease breast milk production (3). So medications with this ingredient should be used only as a last resort.
- Codeine: Not recommended for breastfeeding mothers. This is because mothers are ultra-fast metabolizers (4). Metabolizers turn codeine into morphine at a rapid rate, and this can result in morphine being administered to your baby with dangerous results.
- Benzonatate: Benzonatate has not been proven harmful to milk supply or breastfeeding babies (5). Still, there’s not a lot of research done on the medication, so it’s recommended you 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. No studies are showing how much of this medication secretes into the breastmilk, nor how it affects breastfeeding infants (7). Because of this, it’s recommended breastfeeding mothers avoid it, if possible.
Aspirin is not recommended for breastfeeding mothers because of the risk of causing Reye’s Syndrome — a rare but very serious 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 the symptoms of a cold, making you more comfortable and maybe even shorten its duration.
Here’s what you can do:
When you have a cold, your immune system is in overdrive trying to fight off the virus. This can be nothing short of exhausting — especially if you’re up in the middle of the night with 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 babies 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 with the cough or itchy throat that can come with illness. Humidifiers release cool mist, while vaporizers release steam into the air.
Doctors recommend cool mist humidifiers for homes that have small children, to reduce the risk of the child being 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 has been shown to 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. Don’t grab the milk and sugar just yet — you’re not going to want to drink out of this one!
They work by pouring filtered water mixed with a saline solution into one nostril to push the mucus buildup out of 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’re not ingesting anything when you use it — no chance of anything passing into your breastmilk.
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 help to clear secretions. It’s also essential for maintaining a good milk supply while you’re feeling ill.
It’s recommended that breastfeeding moms drink approximately three liters of fluid each day, but don’t be discouraged by that number. You don’t have to drink only but 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 things such as aspirin and cough suppressants should be avoided, 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 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