Breastfeeding and medications, prescription drugs

Breastfeeding is the best source of food for most babies. When breastfeeding, your baby is nourished by foods, vitamins and other things you take into your own body. So it’s important to watch the kinds of food you eat and medicines you take when nursing. Breastfeeding moms may be concerned about using medication when nursing and whether or not the medication can affect their baby’s health. Some women may have health conditions that can either be short-term (such as headaches or colds) or long-term (such as asthma or high blood pressure). These health problems may require using medication.

Over-the-counter and prescription medications

We need more research to know how each medicine can affect your breast milk. While there are some basic guidelines, it’s important to always talk to your baby’s health provider before taking any medication and to tell her you’re breastfeeding.

In general, most over-the-counter medications (medicines you can buy at a local pharmacy or store) and medications prescribed by a health care provider are probably okay to take while breastfeeding (but talk to baby’s health provider first). Some reasons include:

  • The amount of medication passed through breast milk is very small (less than 1 percent of the dose).
  • Since the medication in breast milk is very small and won’t affect a nursing baby very much, most over-the-counter medications (like pain relievers) are okay for mom to take, but be sure to read the label and package insert.
  • Medications that are given to you by a health provider are OK so long as your health provider knows you’re breastfeeding. Some prescription medicines (like those to treat cancer or that have radioactive ingredients) aren’t safe to take while nursing. Again, always talk to your and your baby’s health provider before taking any medication.

Guidelines for medications while nursing


Medication used by baby

  • If the medicine you’re taking can also be prescribed to your baby (in baby-size doses), then it may be okay for you to take. Talk to your baby’s health provider to be sure.
  • Again, this is because the amount of the medicine that gets passed to breast milk is very small.

Medication is safe during pregnancy

  • In most cases, if a medication was safe for you to use when pregnant, it should be okay for you to use when breastfeeding.
  • There are a few exceptions to this guideline (like some medicines used to treat anxiety or sleeplessness), so it’s important to check with your health provider first.

Other tips

  • Stay away from extra-strength doses of medicine. When possible, take the smallest dose for the shortest amount of time. This lowers the chance your breastfed baby will get the medication through breast milk.
  • Take the medication either right after breastfeeding or at least 2 to 4 hours before the next breastfeeding. This gives the medication time to clear your body before baby’s next feeding.
  • If you’re taking a long-acting medication (medicine that lasts for a long time), take the medication before baby’s longest sleep time but after feeding baby. This way, you give yourself the time you need to clear the medication from your body while baby is sleeping.
  • Contact your baby’s health provider if she shows any signs of having a reaction (diarrhea, sleepiness, excessive crying, etc.).
  • Read the label on the medication for any information about how it may affect breastfeeding. Some medications may affect how well your body makes breast milk.

June 2010


Most common questions

How much vitamin D should my baby get?

Vitamin D is important to help avoid a bone-weakening disease called rickets. All babies should receive 400 IU of vitamin D per day, starting in the first few days of life. This includes breastfed babies and babies who drink less than 1L of infant formula per day.

Our skin makes vitamin D when it gets sunlight. But too much sunlight can be harmful, too. In fact, babies 6 months and older and young kids should stay away from direct sunlight and wear sunscreen at all times when out in the sun. However, sunscreen stops the skin from making vitamin D. The best way to get enough vitamin D is by giving your baby liquid multivitamin drops with vitamin D. They can be found in many pharmacies, and you won't need a prescription for it. Just be sure you've filled the dropper to no more than 400 international units (IU).

How often should I nurse my baby?

All babies are different and have different feeding patterns. In general, breastfed newborns need to eat 8 to 12 times in 24 hours (about once every 2 to 3 hours), for about 30 minutes each time. Breast milk is easily digested so it may be difficult to time when you should nurse your baby.

Newborns may need to feed more frequently than older babies. They may need to be fed on demand. As your milk supply is established and the baby grows, the baby's feeding patterns may change and she may go longer between feedings. Remember, breastfeeding is a natural skill, but it’s also a learned skilled. Be patient and give yourself (and your baby) time to master this new ability.

What solids foods should I start my baby on?

Begin with a single-grain iron-fortified cereal such as rice, barley or oatmeal. Mix it with breast milk or infant formula. Start with a small amount once a day. It's hard to tell how much your baby will eat. At first, most of her food will probably end on her bib or face. Be patient and help your baby learn this new skill. It's important that meal time is a pleasant time. This will build the foundation of healthy eating habits. If your baby cries, shows no interest in feeding or turns her head away from the spoon, stop feeding her. She is trying to tell you that she's full or she doesn’t want anymore. You should never force her to eat more than what she wants.

When should I give my baby solid foods?

Breast milk is the best food for most babies. It's best to give only breast milk for the first 6 months of life. Some babies might be ready to start solid foods between 4 to 6 months of age. When your baby is between 4 to 6 months, she may begin to show signs that she's ready to try some solid foods alongside her breast milk or formula. Watch for her developmental cues (signs) and she'll let you know when she's ready. Some signs that show your baby might be ready to start solid foods are:

  • She can sit with support.
  • She shows a good head neck control when seated.
  • She shows a desire for food by opening her mouth, drooling and leaning forward.
  • She begins to chew and brings her hands to her mouth.
  • She begins to handle objects with the palm of her hand.
  • She swallows pureed food and the extrusion reflex starts to go away (tongue-thrust reflex).
©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).