What to Know About Cold Medicine While Breastfeeding

It can be challenging to breastfeed your baby when you're not feeling well. You may have concerns about breastfeeding while sick, but it's safe to continue breastfeeding even when battling a cold or the flu. Many cold and flu medications are safe to use, too. Although small amounts of medication may get into your breast milk, this generally will not harm the baby.

This article discusses which medications are safe to use while breastfeeding, their side effects, and which ones to avoid.

Woman breastfeeding baby

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Can I Breastfeed While Sick?

Yes, you can breastfeed even if you're sick. Breastfeeding while sick is still healthy for you and your baby. Continuing to breastfeed is also a good reminder to keep yourself fully hydrated. You need ample hydration to make breast milk, and it also helps relieve symptoms.

Things to consider with breastfeeding while sick include:

  • Age of the infant
  • Potential effects of the drug on breast milk production
  • Amount of the drug that will enter the milk supply
  • Proportion of the baby's milk intake that is from breastfeeding

Premature babies and newborns are most at risk for being negatively affected by medicine in breast milk, but the risk goes down around 2 months of age.

Drugs and Lactation (LactMed) Database

The Drugs and Lactation (LactMed) database is a useful resource for parents. It's a searchable database that contains information on drugs and other chemicals breastfeeding parents and their babies may be exposed to.

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Immune Health

Breastfeeding has a number of benefits for the baby and the nursing parent. Your body produces antibodies that are passed to your baby, which then protect them from your cold or viral infection.

If you are too sick or weak to breastfeed, you might try pumping milk to keep up your supply.

Supplementing with baby formula is also an option, and it's absolutely safe. If you are unable to breastfeed, your baby can receive the nutrients they need from formula.

Cold and Allergy Medicine Safe for Breastfeeding

The following medicines are considered safe for nursing parents, but it's always a good idea to check with a healthcare provider or pediatrician before taking any new medications. Some medications can reduce your milk supply.

Pain relievers and fever reducers that are safe to take while breastfeeding include:

Allergy medicines and decongestants generally reduce symptoms such as itchy eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose. Safe options to take while breastfeeding include:

  • Claritin (loratadine): Claritin is safe to use based on supporting data but may have a negative effect on your milk supply when combined with a decongestant such as Sudafed (pseudoephedrine).
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine): Zyrtec is safe in occasional, small doses, but in large doses, it can reduce milk supply.
  • Allegra Allergy (fexofenadine): Allegra is safe in occasional, small doses, but it may have a negative effect on milk supply when combined with a decongestant such as Sudafed.
  • Mucinex (guaifenesin): Mucinex is most likely safe in occasional small doses, but more studies are needed.
  • Afrin (Oxymetazoline): This decongestant is sprayed into the nose and is not likely to enter the milk supply. Anyone taking this medicine should only use it for three days at most, because your body can become dependent on it. Oxymetazoline should be avoided if the infant has cardiac symptoms or high blood pressure.

Medications to Avoid

Watch Out for These Ingredients

The following are not recommended for nursing parents. Always check with a healthcare provider before taking any new medications, because some medications can reduce your breast milk supply or affect your baby's sleep.

Ingredients to avoid while breastfeeding include:

  • Alcohol: Some remedies have alcohol to help you sleep, so skip those.
  • DayQuil: DayQuil contains dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, and phenylephrine, a decongestant, which can reduce your milk supply.
  • NyQuil: NyQuil contains dextromethorphan, but instead of phenylephrine, it contains doxylamine, an antihistamine and sleep aid, which can reduce breast milk supply.
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl): This drug may cause sleepiness, and prolonged use may decrease your milk supply. Breastfeeding babies can also become drowsy or irritable.
  • Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed): Decongestants that contain phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine can dry up milk supply.

Look at Ingredients' Lists

Look at the ingredients' list on the packaging before taking any medication. Not all ingredients have been studied for safety in breastfeeding people, and healthcare providers urge caution when deciding which medications to take to treat a cold or flu.

Alternative Cold Medicines and Remedies

In addition to common over-the-counter (OTC) medications, some alternative remedies can help treat symptoms of common illnesses (like colds), such as:

  • Congestion: A steamy shower or bath, saline-only (saltwater) nasal spray, and plenty of warm fluids can help ease congestion.
  • Cough: Warm water with lemon and honey can ease the nursing parent's cough. Honey is not recommended for children younger than 12 months of age, but if the nursing parent has honey in warm water or tea, it's considered safe.
  • Sore throat: Gargling with warm salt water is a safe way to ease a sore throat. Eating cold ice pops may also offer some relief for throat pain, as would warm soup.

You can always talk to your healthcare provider about other options for symptom relief.

Summary

There are a number of OTC and prescription medications available to treat colds and the flu. Some, in small doses and for a short period of time, may be safe, while others can have side effects for both the breastfeeding parent and the baby. The best way to know if a medication is safe for use is to check with a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Breastfeeding your baby can be a very rewarding and bonding experience, but having a cold or the flu can impact your routine. The best way to get better is to stay calm, rest, and hydrate often. If you're concerned about ingredients in common cold and flu medications and how they impact your breast milk supply, discuss with a healthcare provider, breastfeeding specialist, or your child's pediatrician.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How safe is DayQuil while breastfeeding?

    It depends. DayQuil contains dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, and phenylephrine, a decongestant, which can lower breast milk supply and may cause irritability in the baby. Check with your healthcare provider before using DayQuil.

  • Can you take antibiotics while breastfeeding?

    Yes. This question comes up when nursing parents experience a painful condition, called mastitis, in which milk ducts become clogged. The antibiotics prescribed to treat the infection are safe, as are other types of antibiotics to treat other conditions.

  • Can a nursing parent pass an infection to a baby from breastfeeding?

    Not in most cases. In fact, breast milk provides antibodies for the baby to strengthen their immune system against infection.

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14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  12. National Library of Medicine, Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). Doxylamine.

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