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There is a lot of information online about what breastfeeding mothers are allowed to eat, drink, and what medications they can take. So which resources can mothers trust? This post will provide breastfeeding mothers with reliable resources to refer to with regards to food, drinks and medications that will not harm mother and child.
Information leaflets are from pharmaceutical companies
Every country has its own source of drug information that healthcare professionals, and sometimes even the public, can access. In Australia, health professionals refer to the Australian Medicines Handbook and the public can refer to healthdirect.gov.au. Professionals (and the public) in Sweden use FASS as a source of medication information, while the UK and USA use medicines.org.uk/emc and medlineplus.gov respectively.
Health professionals refer to these resources daily to search for dosages, side effects and warnings about medications.
One might think that the information is written by a group of experts who have reviewed literature about the medications. But, this is not actually the case. The texts on individual medications are written by the pharmaceutical companies themselves. Certainly, the information is required to be correct, but it is unclear to me how this is checked. Does anyone know?
It seems to me that the pharmaceutical companies advise against breastfeeding more than one should expect. Maybe they don’t want to risk being held responsible for adverse effects.
But this doesn’t seem fair to breastfeeding women. I know that an advice to refrain from or stop breastfeeding can have major negative consequences for a woman who wants to breastfeed her child. Breastfeeding and breastfeeding duration are a private matter. If one is to intervene with advice to interrupt or pause breastfeeding, then they should be thorough with their research.
It is also ethically wrong to not treat mothers with medications they need, because you do not have the ‘energy’ to find out what there is to know about the specific drug and breastfeeding.
Resources specifically about medications and breastfeeding
Thank goodness there are other sources!!
Stockholm County Medicines Committee has put together a free decision support about medications and breastfeeding for everyone to read at janusinfo.se. In the UK, there is the Breastfeeding Network. In Australia, there are plenty of resources available at the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
How amazing is that?! These websites can help you with the following:
1. Does the drug pass into breast milk and if so, how much? In other words, what dose of medications does the baby ingest when breastfeeding.
2. Is there reason to suspect that the child is having side effects from the medicine and if so, which side effects?
3. Are there any publications about the side effects among breast-fed babies whose mothers have been given this medication?
Sometimes you’ll find that the sources don’t know if the drug passes into breast milk, or if it does, it’s not known how much is passed through. This is when it’s important to use your common sense. For me as a pediatrician who has extensive experience treating infants, it is sometimes obvious. If it is a drug we treat infants with, without seeing much or any serious side effects, then the baby is able to drink the breast milk with the drug at a lower dose. If it’s a drug we avoid giving babies due to known side effects, and if we also cannot find out how much of the drug passes into breast milk, well then, we don’t recommend breastfeeding while taking the medications.
Doctors can call pediatricians to ask!
As a pediatrician on call, I regularly receive phone calls from other medical colleagues about whether breastfeeding can continue with certain medications. Or how long a mother needs to pump and discard breast milk after taking a medication, as to not harm the baby.
For those medical colleagues reading this, you will not find the answer to your question at the aforementioned websites . Call the pediatric emergency department at your local hospital and ask for advice. Also, obstetricians often know more about drug choice and recommendations for newborns due to their experiences treating pregnant mothers.
There are no specific diets for breastfeeding mothers
Great news! There are no specific diets for breastfeeding mothers. However, women are encouraged to maintain a health balanced diet. Apart from limiting oily fish, breastfeeding women do not need to avoid certain foods. Caffeine and alcohol are also OK within limits. Speak to your health professional for more information.