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What You'll Want to Know About Breastfeeding and Over-the-Counter Medicines

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Breast milk contains all of the nutrients and natural antibodies your baby needs in just the right amounts. If you're taking over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, however, the ingredients found in those medications could also end up in your breast milk. As a new mother, you may have plenty of concerns about the potential risk that OTC medicines can pose to your nursing child.

If you need to take OTC medicines for sinus congestion, cough, or cold, the following explains what you can do to keep your baby safe.

Consult Your Doctor First

You should always check with your doctor before taking any type of medication while breastfeeding, including common OTC medicines. Even the most benign of OTC medicines can have unexpected effects on nursing mothers and children they breastfeed.

Although it's best to get your doctor's opinion on an OTC medicine, you can also ask your pharmacist if you can't get a hold of your doctor. In addition to asking questions about the medicine you're interested in, you should also inform your pharmacist about any other medications, supplements, or herbal remedies you might also be taking. Some OTC medicines can interact negatively with other medications, leading to unforeseen complications that could impact you and your baby's health and well-being.

Always Check for the Active Ingredient

It's important to check your OTC medication's list of ingredients, as it could contain an active ingredient that could prove unsafe for breastfeeding. For instance, certain OTC cold and sinus medications containing ibuprofen could also contain pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine as the active ingredient. The former can induce irritability in nursing babies and reduce breast milk production, and the latter's effects remain unknown.

Avoid "Extra-Strength" and Multi-Symptom Formulas

So-called "extra-strength" and "long-acting" formula medicines have higher-than-normal dosages, making these medicines more potent than you're probably used to. Stronger dosages also increase the likelihood of the medicine remaining in your bloodstream for longer periods. This also increases the chance of the medicine lingering in your milk supply.

Instead of using extra-strength or long-acting OTC medications, you should stick with the lowest effective dose. This way, the medicine will remain in your bloodstream for a shorter period, thereby reducing the likelihood of it being passed on while you are breastfeeding.

You should also avoid OTC medication formulas that are designed to treat multiple symptoms at once, as these formulas contain multiple ingredients that can linger within the bloodstream for far longer than intended. Instead, you should only use OTC formulas that target your particular symptom. If you need a decongestant, for instance, you should avoid multi-symptom formulas that include antihistamine or cough suppressants.

Choose the Right Time to Breastfeed

The last thing you want to do is start breastfeeding right after taking an OTC medication, especially since the potency of the drug can reach its zenith in a short amount of time. Instead, you'll want to breastfeed your baby before taking your medication or wait at least 2 to 4 hours after you've taken the medicine before breastfeeding. This way, you can sidestep any potential for accidentally transferring unwanted ingredients from the bloodstream to your breast milk.

Keep an Eye on Any Changes

Certain ingredients in OTC medications can induce changes in your baby's behavior. For instance, antihistamines can cause excessive crying, induce fussiness, and disrupt your baby's sleeping patterns. Certain medications that deal with digestive issues can also cause runny stool if your baby is accidentally exposed through breastfeeding.

When taking OTC medications while breastfeeding, it's important to monitor your baby for any physical or behavioral changes. If you happen to see anything that's out of the ordinary, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible.

Visit sites such as to find a pediatrician near you.