If you take medicine while breastfeeding, it will be transferred to your baby through your breast milk. In most cases, the amount passed to your baby is very small and unlikely to cause harm.
But some drugs can become concentrated in breast milk. A small number of these are not safe to take while breastfeeding. In most cases, there is another medicine that can be safely used instead.
Talk to your GP or pharmacist before taking medication or herbal supplements.
Talking to a healthcare professional
Your GP, lactation specialist or pharmacist can recommend suitable medicine for your situation. Their recommendation will be based on many things. For example, you and your baby’s health history, your baby’s age and any other medicines that you may be taking.
They will assess:
- how mild or severe your symptoms are
- how effective the medicine is
- how much of the medicine passes to your baby through your breast milk
- whether you are taking other medicines which may lead to complications
Breastfeeding when you're sick
You’re likely to feel tired, so listen to your body and get some rest when you can. Sleep when your baby sleeps and ask for help at home if you need it.
Breastfeeding your baby when you're sick is generally safe. In rare cases, you may need to stop breastfeeding if you have a serious illness. Talk to your GP if you are worried.
For most illnesses, continuing to breastfeed will pass on immunity cells to your baby. This may help them to fight this specific infection. If your baby becomes ill, your breast milk will help them to recover more quickly.
Practising good hygiene is very important to stop any infection spreading to others. With coughs and colds, cough into a tissue, bin it, and then wash your hands.
Cold or sore throat
If you have a cold or a sore throat, you should still continue to breastfeed your baby. Doing so will pass on immunity cells so that your baby can fight this specific infection.
Treatment for a cold or sore throat
Try the following to help the discomfort of a cold or a sore throat when breastfeeding:
- Take honey and lemon mixed in hot water, or sip on other warm fluids like natural teas to keep your throat moist.
- Gargle some salt water.
- If you have a cough, try a cough medicine that is based on glycerine and honey. Ask your pharmacist to recommend one that is safe for breastfeeding.
- A throat lozenge can help ease a dry sore throat. Ask your pharmacist to recommend one that is safe for breastfeeding.
- For pain or fever, you may want to take paracetamol or ibuprofen (not suitable if you have asthma). Follow the instructions on the packet and take it for the shortest amount of time possible.
Avoid medicines that contain decongestants. These can lead to a reduction in your milk supply.
Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if:
- your throat is very sore and the pain is not relieved by paracetamol or ibuprofen
- you're having difficulty swallowing
- you have a persistent temperature above 38 degrees Celsius
- the symptoms have been ongoing for a week or more
Antihistamines for allergies
An antihistamine is a type of medicine used to treat allergy symptoms. For example, to treat hay fever.
Before taking an antihistamine, you should speak to your GP, lactation specialist or pharmacist. Tell them you want to continue breastfeeding and manage your allergy.
Antihistamines may decrease your milk supply if used at high doses and for long periods of time.
Talk to your dentist about medicine if you are breastfeeding. They may use medicine such as local anaesthetic or pain relief. This depends on the type of dental work involved.