Women’s experience

According to the data in scientific literature, highlighted by Dutch epidemiological research (Schirm E, Schwagermann MP, et al. Drug use during breastfeeding. A survey from the Netherlands. Eur J Clin Nutr 2004; 58: 386 90), approximately 66% of women who breastfeed needs to take drugs, often with the doubt that the treatment may be inconsistent with the baby’s health, and the result of being faced with a dilemma: give up nursing from the start, or decide along the way, to interrupt nursing.

In other words, there is a conflict between breastfeeding and the use of drugs by the woman breastfeeding for fear of causing damage to the baby’s health. It is usually possible for the doctor to identify a safe drug for the woman who is breastfeeding and needs treatment. Most drugs pass into breast milk only in very small quantities and rarely cause damage in children. In most cases, discontinuing breastfeeding could cause more harm to the baby than the harm that the drug potentially taken may cause through breast milk.

Problems with accurate information

In addition to being fully informed on taking any medication, the nursing mother should also be given advice to reduce any side effects in children. It is preferable to take the medication immediately after feeding, thus avoiding the infant sustain the peak concentration in blood. When prescribing of psychotropic drugs or substances, or those substances able to stabilize or improve mood, mental state and/or behavior, the mother should always be informed about the symptoms to be monitored in the baby:

  • Disruptions of the sleep-wake cycle
  • The onset of drawsiness
  • Feeding difficulties

If present in breast milk, in addition to the short-term effects described above, psychotropic drugs may also show long-term effects in the central nervous system of the infant, which, however, do not seem to detract from the advantages and the benefits of breast milk on the intellectual development of the child.

Figure 8: Website for information about drugs & breastfeeding

In conclusion, since the decision on the safety of use or not of a drug during lactation must protect the health of both mother and child, the data available, although the specific literature on the subject is rather poor, allow for reaching the conclusion that, most times, breastfeeding is compatible with the need for maternal care.

For this reason, we highlight the website of the NIH devoted to drugs during pregnancy and nursing, available at the following link: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/pubs/factsheets/lactmedfs.html (Fig. 8)