There are not very many medications that are licensed for women to take when they’re breastfeeding. This is, however, mostly an ethics issue: because it is not ethical to test the safety of drugs on breastfeeding women, drugs companies go the easy route and just say that they’re not safe to take.
However, as with most things when it comes to parenting, things are much more complicated than that. Sometimes the risk of a drug is to the well-being of your baby. Sometimes it is to your milk supply.
And then there is the calculation of risk – which action carries the lowest risk to your baby: taking a drug that may cause a few minor side effects, or stopping breastfeeding?
So you see that prescribing drugs for breastfeeding women is difficult for doctors, and you can hardly blame them when they ask mums to stop breastfeeding when they hand over a prescription for a drug that the BNF (the doctors’ bible of drug prescribing) says may not be safe.
The fact is, however, that for nearly every class of drug, there is at least one version that is safe to take while you’re breastfeeding, and there are pharmacists around the world who have done the research required to be able to say which they are.
If your doctor prescribes you a medication and tells you you need to stop breastfeeding, if continuing with breastfeeding is important to you, then please, please query this. There are a few ways you can do this:
1. Ask your doctor to ensure that the practice carry the latest copy of Hales’ Medications and Mothers’ Milk, and that the book is consulted whenever a breastfeeding mother is prescribed medication
2. Ask your doctor to look up the medication he wants to give you on the NHS’s online Drugs in Breastmilk Quick Reference Guide
3. Ask your doctor to call the Breastfeeding Network Drugs in Breastmilk Helpline on 0844 412 4665 – this helpline is voluntarily staffed by a pharmacist and breastfeeding supporter at the Breastfeeding Network
4. Ask your doctor to look up the class of drug on the Breastfeeding Network’s Drugs in Breastmilk Factsheet webpage, all of which are researched and written by a pharmacist
If you’ve already come home, having felt understandably unable to stand up to your doctor, you can make another appointment to see someone different, and explain to them that you were prescribed something that you were told would mean you would have to stop breastfeeding and ask them if they could prescribe you something different.
And, of course, it may well be that you look up the medication you’ve been prescribed, using the above links, and you find that it is, in fact, perfectly safe to continue breastfeeding while taking the drug.
If you’ve found this post helpful, please let me know!
Edited to add: A new link from Helen that you might want to point your GP in the direction of: Toxnet Drugs and Lactation Database