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Did you know that most moms refuse to take cold medicines while breastfeeding? That’s just crazy to me!
When it comes to being sick, I’m with the crowd saying “All I need is some Double-Strength-Multi-Symptom-Biggest-Hammer-Available! And if it says to take it every four hours – oh, I’m setting a timer. For like 3 hours and 55 minutes. #justincase
I’d like to say motherhood magically changed me into a saint who thought only of her child all the time. But I’d be lying. Because the very first time I got a bad cold, I was headed straight for the Theraflu (hey, it could’ve been flu!). If my son’s
overprotective, watchful daddy hadn’t been there, I’d’ve taken it without a second thought. It didn’t occur to me to check for safe cold medicines while I was breastfeeding.
But I learned quickly! The horrified expression on my hubby’s face clued me in that I might have almost nearly crossed a line.
Because the truth is, what we consider a small dose of “harmless” cold medicine could seriously hurt a baby. We always have to check what we’re taking to be sure it’s safe. And yes, I learned to be much more careful.
If you ever have a question, call your pediatrician or a local pharmacist (but I’d start with the pediatrician 😏)
Choosing the right cold medicine
It’s tricky to pick one, isn’t it? I mean, there are over a hundred different medicines in the cold aisle, all competing to nix your sniffles! So how do you know what cold medicine is safe to take when you’re nursing?
Avoid anything that says “Extra Strength.” I know, that breaks my heart too. Everything extra-strength isn’t bad, but we’re looking for normal doses of effective medicine — not trying to kill Coldzilla.
Don’t use multi-symptom formulas. When you do this, you’re almost always taking unnecessary medications. If you have a fever and congestion, you’re better off taking a fever reducer and a decongestant. It feels like you’re taking more medicine, but it’s still fewer drugs than you’ll find in a multi-symptom formula.
Only take medicine for the worst symptoms. Now I like to get rid of symptoms as much as the next girl; but when we’re nursing, we need to keep the meds to a bare minimum. So if you’ve coughed a few times but it isn’t really bothering you, then hold off on the cough medicine.
Stay away from long-acting medicine. If the container says to take it every 4 to 6 hours, that’s alright. But if it’s an 8 or 12-hour dose, try to find something else. The shorter-acting meds tend to be safer than longer-acting ones.
For sinus issues, nasal sprays are generally safer than oral medications.
5 Safe cold medicines while breastfeeding
Quick disclaimer: I am not a doctor and not qualified to give medical advice. The safety information I used for these recommendations was from LactMed and/or InfantRisk. If you or your baby use any other medications, check with your doctor before taking these. The recommendation of safety for breastfeeding does not extend to every variation of medicine that may carry a particular brand.
I should point out here that every brand on the list makes several different cold formulations. I’ve only researched the ingredients of the specific formulations I’ve listed below.
Robitussin DM – Robitussin DM’s 2 active ingredients are dextromethorphan and guaifenesin. Neither has been studied but both are generally regarded as safe, especially if a baby is older than 2 months. Regarding dextromethorphan, InfantRisk.com says it is “unlikely to transfer into milk.” Read the instructions carefully. If you’re on certain medications, such as antidepressants, you shouldn’t take it.
Vicks Sinex Severe nasal spray – Okay, I’ll admit, this one breaks that rule about 12-hour doses. BUT but but but but… because it’s a nasal spray, it’s safer than oral medicine. It stays put in the general area of application and will be virtually undetectable in your breastmilk.
Delsym DM Cough and Chest Congestion – Much like Robitussin DM, Delsym is a cough suppressant that uses dextromethorphan and guaifenesin. Neither drug has been studied in nursing mothers; but both are generally regarded as safe, especially if a baby is older than 2 months. Regarding dextromethorphan, InfantRisk.com says it is “unlikely to transfer into milk.” Read the instructions carefully. If you’re on certain medications, such as antidepressants, you shouldn’t take it.
Nasacort Allergy Nasal Spray – This nasal spray isn’t just for allergies, it works amazingly well for all kinds of sinus pressure, sneezing, and congestion. Yes, it says that it’s a multi-symptom drug, which I was just railing about, but all those are nose symptoms treated by 1 drug. So it kinda doesn’t count. And according to InfantRisk.com, its active ingredient Triamcinolone provides “virtually no risk to a breastfeeding infant when the mother uses this product nasally.”
Motrin/Advil/Ibuprofen – Ibuprofen is an absolute gift from God when you’re sick. It takes away the achiness and pain, the fever, the general kill-me-now feelings, and it makes everything better. Obviously, I’m no medical professional describing it here. Don’t forget to take your ibuprofen! It’s soooooo well studied in nursing moms. Babies get about 0.6% of their mother’s dose through her breastmilk. And that’s less than the dose a doctor would give to a newborn directly. Don’t overdo it on this “safe” drug though. Stay strictly in the dosing guidelines because it’s dangerous if you take too much!
Being sick is miserable enough without having to tough it out. You can totally take cold medicines while breastfeeding. You don’t have to be a hero. And you don’t have to be a crying snotty mess on the couch either. Just avoid multi-symptom cold medicines, extra-strength doses, long-acting formulas. Oh, and don’t try to cure every symptom, tempting though it may be. Just take medicine to ease the symptoms that are making you miserable.
The 5 cold medicines listed above are probably not crunchy-mama approved. They’re not organic, dye-free, grass-fed, or cold-processed. But they’re generally recognized as safe for nursing moms by the medical community, and I feel confident they’ll have you feeling back to normal in no time.
Oh yeah, and that Theraflu I almost took? It probably would have been fine. But it had more active ingredients than I actually needed — including phenylephrine, which is safe for the baby but it can cut a mom’s milk supply by almost a fourth! I’m thinking, not really worth it.
What’s your go-to cold remedy? Please share it in the comments below!