If there’s anything that strikes fear into the hearts of new mothers, it is the thought of harming their newborns by taking a medication that might get into their breast milk and affect their babies. But a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which was published online in the August 26th journal Pediatrics should put many new moms at ease.
Addressing the question of the safety of vaccines and drugs for the first time in 12 years, the AAP advised “Many women are needlessly advised to either stop breast-feeding or forgo medicines, potentially depriving both mother and infant of important health benefits. Similarly, most vaccines are safe for nursing mothers and for their babies.”There are a few exceptions, including narcotic painkillers, certain drugs for psychiatric conditions, and herbal “treatments”—St. John’s wort in particular. (Herbal supplements are for the most part either useless, harmful or both. Taking herbal supplements while pregnant — especially to avoid taking safe, necessary drugs — should be strongly discouraged.
The report “is really an affirmation of current thinking,” said first author Hari Cheryl Sachs, M.D., who is an expert in pediatric and maternal health at the FDA. Clinicians should look up safety of specific medications on the National Library of Medicine's peer-reviewed LactMed database online, according to Dr. Sachs and her and colleagues.
Her agency proposed a change in drug labeling in 2008 and is now working on the final rule.
And this is timely information according to Ruth Lawrence, a breastfeeding expert at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She says, “This is a long-awaited statement. The tendency among practitioners is to say, ‘I don’t know the answer, therefore why don’t you stop breastfeeding.’ There are very few drugs that are contraindicated while breastfeeding.”
For the NIH database of drug safety during breastfeeding see this site.