Is cold medicine while breastfeeding okay?

mom breastfeeding an infant

If you catch cold while breastfeeding, are there over the counter (OTC) medications that you can take to alleviate symptoms? The short answer is yes. In this recent article on, Leah M. Mello, MD, Obstetrics/Gynecology (Ob/Gyn) at ARC Seton Northwest shares which OTC medicines are safe while breastfeeding.

"The field of medications you can take is way wider than it is in pregnancy," says Dr. Leah Mello. A lot of common cold medications are okay to take while breastfeeding."

Can you take cold medicine while breastfeeding?

In general, it's okay for nursing parents to take many common OTC cold medications. Many of the individual ingredients you might reach for to alleviate your symptoms—like decongestants, cough suppressants, and pain relievers—are generally considered safe, and the ones that aren't often have safer alternatives that provide the same kind of symptom relief.

But some medications do pass into breast milk in small doses, and some of them have the potential to decrease milk supply, as well. If you are a breastfeeding parent, it is best to check with your primary care provider, Ob/Gyn, or lactation specialist before taking medications.

According to Dr. Mello, one of the best ways to choose breastfeeding-friendly cold medications and reduce side effects is to stick with single-symptom formulations instead of multi-symptom ones; for example, taking Sudafed and Robitussin separately if you have a cough and congestion, rather than Dayquil or Tylenol Cold.

"Every time you have a list of multiple ingredients, that increases the chance of taking an unsafe one or exposing mom and baby to [something that could cause side effects]," Dr. Mello warns.

Safe cold medicine while breastfeeding

In general, pseudoephedrine, dextromethorphan, NSAID pain relievers, acetaminophen, and second-generation allergy medications such as Zyrtec and Claritin are considered safe options for treating cold symptoms while breastfeeding. Dr. Mello advises that these drugs typically don't pass through breast milk in high enough quantities to cause side effects in your baby.

She does advise breastfeeding moms to avoid first-generation allergy medications like Benadryl, however, as they can cause sedation in your baby.

Make sure to check the label of cough medications for alcohol before taking anything while breastfeeding; while many don't include alcohol, there are still plenty of OTC medications, including cough syrups, that use it to increase the sedating effects of the medication.

How to take cold medicine safely

"You should always follow the dosing on the bottle, whether you're pregnant or not," Dr. Mello says. All drugs can cause side effects under the right circumstances. She adds that you should never take more than the recommended amount of a drug within the timeframe given on the packaging. Other tips:

  • Be careful when mixing and matching medications.
  • Orient timing around your baby's feeding schedule; take medications right after they nurse or go down for the night

Finally, it's important to observe your baby for side effects if you're breastfeeding while taking any medication. "Some medications can cause irritability and decreased milk supply, along with drowsiness, in babies [when the nursing parent is taking them]," Dr. Mello says.

"It's okay to keep feeding your baby while you're sick—your body is making antibodies for the virus, which get passed through your breast milk," explains Dr. Mello. "So, keep your baby's feedings, but if you're worried, wear a mask and add in some extra handwashing."

If you're unsure at all about the safety of any medication while breastfeeding, skip Google and give your provider or child's pediatrician a call, Dr. Mello suggests; they're much more likely to have accurate and up-to-date information about which drugs should and should not be taken if you're breastfeeding.

Make an appointment today with Dr. Mello

Make an appointment with Dr. Mello today online or by calling ARC Seton Northwest at 512-338-8181.

Tags: breastfeeding, Breastfeeding tips, Medicine while breastfeeding