The Breastfeeding Factor: Using Drugs While Breastfeeding
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Using Drugs While Breastfeeding
After nine or more months of carefully avoiding so much as an aspirin, you may feel relieved at having your body back to yourself. Now, you think, if I have a headache or a cold I can take something for it. But then, as you offer your breast to your baby or pump milk for him, you are reminded that in many ways, the two of you are still sharing the same body. Virtually all foods, herbs, drugs, and hormones that enter your body have the potential to enter your breast milk and affect your baby.
Much conflicting information exists about the safety of using different medications and herbs during breastfeeding. Not long ago, new mothers were told that they must wean their babies in order to treat a health condition with drugs. Some mothers never even started to breastfeed because of medications they were told they needed during pregnancy or immediately postpartum. Today, mothers are advised to switch to formula temporarily and "pump and dump" their milk during that time if they want to continue to breastfeed after using a medication, but this is often impractical and leads to engorgement and breast infections in many women who are accustomed to nursing their babies on demand. If a baby is less than six weeks old, giving her an artificial nipple can cause her to reject the breast when it's time to go back.
Today, the typical conventional health-care model advises against the use of any and all herbs and drugs during nursing, choosing a "better safe than sorry" approach. While this approach makes good sense when the health of a baby hangs in the balance, scientific research into the effects of various drugs and herbs on the composition of mother's milk and the potential for harm to the baby now allows us to make more specific recommendations. The enormous benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding make it worth considering even if drugs or herbs are being used to support the health of the mother.
Ideally, you will remain well enough during your breastfeeding months or years to avoid having to use prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Even if you don't, take heart: There are few drugs that you absolutely cannot take while breastfeeding. Most drugs do pass into your milk and into your baby's body, but in most instances the amount of drug that actually gets to your baby is around 1 percent of what you have taken. Most experts agree that, in almost every case, having breast milk with a minuscule amount of medication in it is better for a baby than switching to formula feeding. The general cautiousness toward drugs and nursing has much to do with the litigious age we live in; physicians and drug companies don't want to be held responsible for any harm that could come to an infant due to drug exposure.
We are certainly not encouraging you to swallow a pill for every ill you experience. It is almost always better to try nutritional, herbal, and lifestyle adjustments to allow your body to heal itself before you introduce foreign chemical substances into your body and into your milk. This is especially true during the first six weeks of your baby's life, when the cells that line her intestines are loosely knit to allow large immune system factors from your milk into her bloodstream. During these early weeks, drugs that would otherwise not pass into baby's circulation can float through easily. If at all possible, avoid taking any medications until your baby has been in the world for six weeks. If you cannot do so, you may be able to work with your doctor to time your drug dosages so that your baby's exposure is minimized.
More on: Adjusting to New Motherhood
From A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health by Dean Raffelock, Robert Rountree, and Virginia Hopkins with Melissa Block. Copyright © 2002 by Dr. Dean Raffelock. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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