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44. Breast-feeding and taking medicines

Introduction
If a breast-feeding mother is prescribed any medicine, the fact that she is breast-feeding has to be taken into account. Many types of medicines do find their way, through the mother's bloodstream, into breast-milk. This means the baby will suckle the medicine.

There are three broad questions:
Will the medicine affect the taste of the milk?
Does the baby need this medicine?
What effect does the medicine have on the baby?

In the section below we have attempted to cover as wide a range of common and not-so-common medicines as possible in answering these questions.

There are types of medicines that are clearly incompatible with breast-feeding. This is usually because of the potential of harming the baby. A few types change the taste of the milk, something that may lead to the baby declining the breast and consequently going hungry.

Many other types of medicine are perfectly safe for the baby and have no effect on the taste of the milk.

For some, the effect is unknown and the advice is to stop breast-feeding, at least for the duration of the medication course.

Any breast-feeding mother should read the instruction leaflet accompanying the medicine, be it prescription or over-­the-counter. If that information is missing (and if it is not covered here), then the doctor should be asked to provide this vital information.