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New Guidelines on Medication Safety for Breastfeeding Mothers

Do you have concerns about breastfeeding while on certain medications? Good news: In the September 2013 issue of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shares its revised guidelines on the transfer of drugs into breast milk, largely loosening the "rules" on medication safety for nursing mothers. The AAP says: "Many mothers are inappropriately advised to discontinue breastfeeding or avoid taking any essential medications because of fears of adverse effects on their infants. This cautious approach may be unnecessary in many cases, because only a small proportion of medications are contraindicated in breastfeeding mothers or associated with adverse effects on their infants."

To summarize more of the AAP's latest advice:

  • In most cases, the benefits of breastfeeding a baby outweigh the typically minimal risks of taking most medications, but women should still consult their physician to weigh the risks and benefits before taking any over-the-counter or prescription drugs.
  • Physicians and nursing moms should refer to a searchable database called LactMed for the most current and comprehensive information available on the safety of specific drugs. For example, a search for "Advil" will show the most recent studies and information on the drug amounts passed through breast milk, any known effects on breastfed infants' health and development (including short-term side effects), and any alternative drugs a mom should consider. Note: The LactMed database is filled with medical jargon and statistics, so you should review the information with your physician before taking any medications.
  • Even if a medication is deemed safe, nursing mothers will often be advised to take the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time to limit the baby's exposure to any drugs passed through breast milk.

The FDA is currently working on comprehensive new drug labeling for nursing mothers. Previously, most drug labels advised that women either discontinue breastfeeding or discontinue using the medication. Under the new labeling rules, a section called "Lactation" will summarize the risks and considerations specific to breastfeeding.



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