EXCLUSIVE: Myth: You cannot take medicine if you are breastfeeding; An expert opines
A breastfeeding mother should be careful with her diet and hygiene. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be taken to extremes, including inhibiting a new mother from taking important medication. This myth is often hard to fight because it contains a grain of truth. There are indeed certain drugs that she is not supposed to take under any circumstances. But what happens when the medicine may save her life? The life of the mother must not threaten the health of her child and vice versa. Hence, a blanket ban on drugs is unadvisable and may end up damaging her health.
Most medications given to mothers do not harm their babies. There are few contra-indications to indicate that maternal medicine is harmful to the baby. Most such risks have been overstated, leading to unnecessary prevention of breastfeeding or avoidance of essential medication by the mother. It is important to note here that whether during pregnancy or breastfeeding, maternal medication must always be administered under medical supervision.
The first trimester is a critical period where we avoid any type of medication other than folic acid, which is not only safe but necessary to avoid neural tube defects. However, if some patients complain of severe nausea or vomiting, we do sometimes prescribe medicines that are safe to take. However, this is fairly rare. If the mother contacts an infection we will usually prescribe certain antibiotics. The other possibility is chronic conditions like cancer or diabetes that necessitate medication.
These rules are generally more relaxed after the first trimester. But medication is still administered only when necessary. We continue this caution after delivery. But these are cautionary steps. Where medication is critical for a mother’s health or her life, we will review the requirement. In the rare case where a drug is unsuitable for the baby but critical for the mother, we will usually advise the mother to stop breastfeeding for a while.
The key issue to understand here is the necessity to ensure good health for both the mother and her baby. While a breastfeeding woman should take care to avoid any kind of infection, this may not always be possible. So, she must seek immediate help from her doctor in case she feels unwell. There are safe medications available that do not harm the baby and can be administered with no side-effects. Above all, she must never self-medicate.
About the author: Dr. Parveen Rushnaiwala, Gynaecologist And Obstetrician, Saifee Hospital