Avoid These Medications During Pregnancy

Doctor and pregnant woman looking at digital tablet. Credit: Hero Images / Getty Images

Many breastfeeding mothers choose to avoid all common medications, as they did when they were pregnant. But for some nursing women with acute or chronic conditions, taking common medications might be the safest route for them and their babies.

Nursing mothers have significant leeway in treatment options because most drugs pass through breast milk in such small amounts that infants aren't affected. Only a few common medications are considered too risky for breastfeeding women, and only one over-the-counter (OTC) drug should not be taken: aspirin (salicylic acid).

Aspirin's blood-thinning properties sometimes cause rashes or bleeding abnormalities in breastfed babies. Combination products, including a cough or cold remedies that contain aspirin, should also be avoided.

Cautions on Drugs

The FDA requires labels on all medications, whether prescription or OTC, to warn breastfeeding women of possible effects. New labeling rules proposed by the FDA expand this information significantly, offering breastfeeding mothers a detailed explanation of a drug's risks and ways to minimize a nursing infant's exposure.

A label's drug risk summary would state, for example, whether the medication is compatible with breastfeeding, whether it would show up in breast milk and whether it would affect milk production and nursing infants. Another section would offer ways to minimize exposure of the drug to the infant, to monitor and respond to potential drug effects in the baby and to adjust the dosage if needed to reduce risks.

Breast milk has long been considered the ideal food for new babies, and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that infants be breastfed until they are at least 12 months old. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 74% of new babies in 2005 were breastfed, and about 43% were still nursing at six months and 21% at a year.

Medications to Avoid

A few prescriptions are considered too risky for a nursing infant:

Ergostat, Medihaler Ergotamine (ergotamine): Medications that include the migraine headache drug ergotamine can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions in babies.

Rheumatrex, Trexall (methotrexate): This anticancer and arthritis drug can suppress a baby's immune system.

Parlodel (bromocriptine): Used to treat Parkinson's disease and pituitary gland tumors, it can diminish milk supply.

Chemotherapy: Various cancer chemotherapy drugs.

Lithium: Used to treat bipolar disorder, lithium passes into breast milk in significant amounts. Physicians can test the amount of lithium in a nursing infant's bloodstream and adjust or eliminate it.

All nursing mothers should review their medication needs with their physicians and switch to safer drugs if possible.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • "Breastfeeding: Frequently Asked Questions." cdc.gov. 27 Jul. 2007. Centers for Disease Control. 5 Feb. 2009
  • "Breastfeeding Introduction." sutterhealth.org. 2009. Sutter Health System. 18 Feb. 2009
  • "Lactation." enotes.com. 2009. Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health. 6 Mar. 2009
  • "Medication Exposures During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Frequently Asked Questions." cdc.gov. 29 Oct. 2004. Centers for Disease Control. 3 Feb. 2009
  • "OTC Products and Certain Patient Groups." aafp.org. 2009. American Academy of Family Physicians. 3 Feb. 2009
  • "OTIS Fact Sheets." otispregnancy.org. 2009. Organization of Teratology Information Specialists. 25 Feb. 2009
  • "Over-the-Counter Medicines: What's Right for You?." fda.gov. 7 Mar. 2006. US Food and Drug Administration. 3 Feb. 2009
  • "Summary of Proposed Rule on Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling." fda.gov. 28 May 2008. US Food and Drug Administration. 25 Feb. 2009
  • "The Transfer of Drugs and Other Chemicals into Human Milk." aappublications.org. 2001. American Academy of Pediatrics