Can I Take Antibiotics While Breastfeeding?

Mother nursing her infant

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Getting sick is miserable enough, but having to deal with an infection while you are caring for a nursing infant can feel like the worst thing ever. You may already be dealing with sleep deprivation and breastfeeding challenges, and now your immune system is under attack too.

Of course you want to do everything you can to feel better if sickness strikes during a time that you need your strength to care for your child. If you are breastfeeding and you end up with a bacterial infection, you may wonder if it's safe for you to take antibiotics.

As it turns out, you can take antibiotics while breastfeeding, but only certain kinds. Make sure your healthcare provider knows that you are nursing a baby before prescribing antibiotics.

"Any of the penicillins or erythromycins are considered safe to take while breastfeeding," notes Alan Lindemann, MD, an obstetrician and maternal mortality expert with over 40 years of experience and co-author of "Modern Medicine: What You're Dying to Know."

Your healthcare provider may also weigh out the risks and benefits of taking antibiotics if you have a serious infection such as mastitis.

What Are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are medicines meant to fight bacterial infections in the body. When you take antibiotics, they kill bacteria. They do not kill viruses, so they should only be taken if you have a confirmed bacterial infection. Some antibiotics are topical, such as antibiotic eye drops or skin creams.

When you are sick, it's best to let your body fight the infection on its own, so you build up your immunity. However, this is not always possible. If an infection isn't getting better, ask your health care provider about antibiotics.

It is important to finish your entire course of antibiotics, even if you feel better. This prevents the bacteria from mutating and evolving to be resistant to antibiotics.

You may be advised to take a probiotic while you are on antibiotics to prevent diarrhea. That's because antibiotics kill any bacteria in their path, whether it's the bad type that makes you sick or the good type that your body needs for proper digestion.

Is It Safe to Take Antibiotics While Breastfeeding?

Some types of antibiotics are fine to take while breastfeeding, while others should be avoided. Antibiotics do pass through breastmilk to the baby, but only some types cause problems. "Certain antibiotics may be transmitted through breast milk and affect the baby’s bone growth, development of teeth, and may worsen jaundice," says Sara Huberman Carbone, MD, a pediatrician at One Medical in California. 

It's important to make sure that your healthcare provider knows that you are breastfeeding so they can prescribe you the right type of antibiotic. Luckily, there are several safe options. "If you are taking an antibiotic to stop the spread of infection, there are many which are considered safe to take while breastfeeding, including penicillins and erythromycins" notes Dr. Lindemann.

If you have a serious infection that needs to be treated with an antibiotic that is not considered safe, there may be times where the benefit of treating the infection is worth the risks. "If you are at risk for developing serious infection, such as mastitis, the risk of taking the antibiotics needs to be compared to the risk of not taking them," explains Dr. Lindemann.

Every breastfeeding journey is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about taking antibiotics while breastfeeding.

Safety Precautions

Consulting with a healthcare provider is important if you need antibiotics while breastfeeding. You will want to make sure that your prescription is safe for your infant. In some cases, you will need to assess the risks and benefits of taking certain antibiotics that aren't considered safe.

If you do take antibiotics while breastfeeding, there are some safety precautions to keep in mind.

Diarrhea

Bacteria can make you sick, but there are some types of bacteria necessary for your body. So-called "good bacteria" live in your gut and help you digest your food. When you take antibiotics, they don't know the difference between these different types. They just power through and knock out any bacteria in their path.

Killing the good bacteria in your gut may lead to diarrhea, which you probably don't want to deal with when you're nursing a baby around the clock. Taking a probiotic or eating yogurt with live cultures can help your body build back up the good bacteria and prevent diarrhea.

Disruption of Infant Gastrointestinal Flora

Antibiotics pass through breastmilk and may similarly disrupt an infant's gastrointestinal flora. This may lead to diarrhea or it can also cause rashes or thrush. If the nursing parent takes a probiotic this may provide protection to younger infants, while infants who eat solid foods can eat yogurt containing live cultures.

When It's Necessary to Take Unsafe Antibiotics

Sometimes, treating an infection as quickly and effectively as possible is paramount. If you are at risk of serious infection, a healthcare provider may advise you to take a type of antibiotic that is not considered safe for breastfeeding, such as tetracycline.

When taking an antibiotic that should not be passed to your baby, take a break from breastfeeding. During this time, feed your baby pumped milk or formula.

You can pump to keep your milk supply strong and to reduce engorgement, but do not feed this milk to your baby. Also, note that pumping will not remove the unsafe substances from your milk. While it is still in your bloodstream, it will still pass into your milk no matter how much you pump. Wait until you are no longer taking the antibiotic to resume nursing your baby.

A Word From Verywell

If you get sick while breastfeeding, do not hesitate to reach out to a medical professional. There are some types of antibiotics that are safe to take. Make sure that your healthcare provider is aware that you are nursing a baby so that they prescribe you a safe antibiotic.

In the case of a serious infection, your doctor may decide that a particular antibiotic is necessary to wipe out the infection quickly and effectively. In this case, you should not nurse your baby until you are finished with your entire course of antibiotics.

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