Is It Harmful to Use Antibiotics While Breastfeeding?
While not all diseases or medical conditions require the use of antibiotics, some do, including ear or sinus infections, dental procedures, or mastitis.
If you have been prescribed an antibiotic while breastfeeding, you may have concerns about its safety. Will the medicine pass into your breast milk? Is it safe for your baby? If the particular antibiotic you have been prescribed is not safe, are there safer alternatives?
All these questions can create a lot of stress. It’s normal. Read on for answers to your questions.
Can You Safely Take Antibiotics While Breastfeeding?
In most cases, antibiotics are safe for breastfeeding parents and their babies.
“Antibiotics are one of the most common medications prescribed to mothers, and they all pass into the milk to some degree,” the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explains. At the same time, the AAP adds: “In general, if the antibiotic is to be administered directly to a premature baby or a newborn, it is safe for the mother to take while breastfeeding.”
So what does this mean for you and your baby?
First, it’s important to keep in mind how medications generally work while breastfeeding.
The majority of drugs present in the bloodstream will also be found in breast milk. But the amount in your milk is usually lower than the amount in your blood, and most drugs “do not pose a real risk to most babies.”
However, the Mayo Clinic also notes that there are exceptions, so any medication you take — including antibiotics — should be cleared by your baby’s pediatrician.
In addition to the drug itself, there are other factors to keep in mind, including how old your baby is. The Mayo Clinic explains that exposure to antibiotics will pose a greater risk to premature babies and newborns compared to older babies and toddlers.
If your baby can safely take the antibiotic, it is probably safe while breastfeeding.
If you are considering taking an antibiotic that is deemed unsafe for your baby, you will need to decide how important it is for you to take the medication.
Which Antibiotics Are Safe?
This question is usually considered on a case-by-case basis, depending on your baby’s age, weight, and general health, and always in consultation with your baby’s pediatrician and prescribing provider.
However, the Mayo Clinic has listed a few antibiotics that are generally considered safe for women who are breastfeeding:
- penicillins, including amoxicillin and ampicillin
- cephalosporins, eg cephalexin (Keflex)
- fluconazole (Diflucan) – this is not an antibiotic, but a common antimicrobial used to treat fungal infections.
If you’re considering taking an antibiotic not listed above, your best bet is to talk to your baby or child’s pediatrician. It is likely that the antibiotic is safe or there is a safe alternative.
What Effects Can Be Used by Using Antibiotics While Breastfeeding?
Besides the concern that an antibiotic could harm your baby’s health, there are other potential concerns regarding the use of antibiotics by breastfeeding mothers.
Antibiotics work by killing bacteria in your body – both the bacteria that harm you and the “good” bacteria that keep you healthy. Therefore, antibiotics can cause some discomfort for both mothers and babies.
Stomach upset and restlessness in babies
Sometimes mothers report that their babies have stomach upsets after taking antibiotics. This may be because antibiotics are depleting the “good” bacteria in your baby’s gut.
Note that this effect is usually short-lived, not harmful, and not specific. Also remember that breast milk is great for your baby’s gut health, so it’s important to continue breastfeeding.
You may consider giving probiotics to your baby to address this issue, but it’s important to consult your baby’s medical provider before doing so.
Sometimes – again, as antibiotics can reduce the number of “good” bacteria in your system that keep other microorganisms in check – you and/or your baby may experience a yeast infection, usually a yeast infection. of Candida albicans can develop thrush, a fungal infection caused by
Candida albicans can cause very uncomfortable symptoms for mothers and babies. Babies may experience stomach upset, diaper rash, and a white coating on their tongue and mouth. The mother may experience nipple pain (often described as stabbing or “glass pricking her nipples”) and red, shiny nipples.
Treatment for thrush usually includes antifungal medications for both mothers and babies. But prevention is key. If you are taking an antibiotic, it is recommended that you take a probiotic to keep your gut bacteria happy and balanced.
What Should You Talk About If Your Doctor Prescribes Antibiotics to You?
If an antibiotic has been prescribed, consult your baby’s pediatrician first. Things you may want to ask include:
- Is this medicine safe for my baby?
- Are there any side effects my baby may experience?
- Should I give my baby probiotics?
If you are told that antibiotics are not safe for your baby, do not worry. Often there are alternatives.
- Ask your doctor if there are alternative, breastfeeding-friendly antibiotics.
- Ask if a lower dose of antibiotics would work.
- Ask how long you should use the medicine and how long it will stay in your body.
If you’re worried that your pediatrician or doctor isn’t taking your concerns seriously, you can also contact another provider for a second opinion. Not all medical providers are knowledgeable about breastfeeding, so don’t hesitate to call someone who is breastfeeding.
What if You Have to Take an Unsafe Medication to Breastfeed?
If you need to take a medicine that is not safe for your baby, try not to worry too much.
Sometimes taking an antibiotic that is contraindicated for breastfeeding is important to your own health and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Your baby needs a healthy mother more than anything, so do what you have to do to stay healthy.
If you are unable to breastfeed while taking the antibiotic, be sure to pump and express your milk regularly to maintain your milk supply. And of course, make sure your baby is fed alternative ways while you wait. You should be able to continue breastfeeding once your body has cleared the antibiotic.
Facing an illness or any medical condition that requires antibiotics is hard enough, and as a breastfeeding parent, worrying about whether a prescribed antibiotic is safe for you can certainly add to the stress.
The antibiotic you were prescribed is probably perfectly fine. Children are often prescribed antibiotics in childhood, so most antibiotics are known to be safe for teenagers, including infants. Also, if you have been prescribed an antibiotic that is contraindicated for breastfeeding, you usually have alternatives.
Sometimes asking for alternatives and questioning your doctor’s advice can sound like a difficult conversation to have. Pumping and draining is an option – and can work well when needed – but it’s not always the solution. It is understandable why many nursing mothers do not opt for this option.
Don’t be afraid to defend yourself, seek good, evidence-based information, educate yourself about breastfeeding and medication use, and get second opinions when needed.
Lactation counselors and lactating peer counselors can help you understand what you’ve learned and work through these difficult conversations with your provider.
In the end, no matter what happens, you and your baby are sure to get through this well.
Healthline, Breastfeeding and Antibiotics: What You Need to Know, 2020
- Breastfeeding and medication. (n.d.).
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Breastfeeding and medications: What’s safe? (2018).
- Thrush and other Candida infections. (2020).