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Which Cold Medicines Are Safe for Breastfeeding?

I'm breastfeeding and I have a cold. What can I take?
ByJack Newman, MD, FRCPC
Pediatrician
Updated
March 2, 2017
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If you’re breastfeeding and come down with a cold, don’t start popping pills just yet. Most cold medicines are considered safe to take while breastfeeding, but since they do enter your milk in small quantities, follow these smart steps to make sure the remedies you take are also safe for baby.

Check the active ingredients in over-the-counter cold remedies to help determine the safety level for baby, and avoid meds with a high alcohol content (like NyQuil). If your doctor is prescribing a medication, always remember to mention that you’re breastfeeding.

It’s better to take any medicine just after you’ve nursed, to help limit baby’s exposure. Also, go for short-acting versions rather than time-release or once-a-day meds, since the long-lasting kinds are tougher for baby to metabolize.

In general, throat sprays, lozenges and cough drops are considered safe. Just steer clear of chomping on lots of drops that contain menthol—it can reduce your milk supply.

As for popular cold medications, here’s a breakdown of what’s considered safe and what has yet to be tested:

Pseudoephedrine has been approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). However, it can potentially decrease your milk supply or cause baby to become irritable. (Often found in Sudafed, Theraflu, Claritin-D and more.)

Acetaminophen, aka Tylenol, has been approved by the AAP, and most experts say it’s safe.

Guaifenesin has not been tested on breastfeeding moms, but it’s sometimes given to infants directly. (Often found in Robitussin, Mucinex and more.)

Dextromethorphan has been studied in breastfeeding women and is considered safe. (Often found in Alka Seltzer Plus, Tylenol Cough & Cold, Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil and more.)

Chlorpheniramine has been approved, but large doses could also lower milk supply. (Often found in Coricidin and more.)

Ibuprofen, aka Advil or Motrin, has been approved, and most experts say it’s safe.

And whatever you do, keep breastfeeding. Never stop nursing because of a cold—your breastmilk passes antibodies to baby, serving as his or her best defense against catching your illness.

Expert: Jack Newman, MD, author of The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers.

Updated December 2016

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