When a person takes a drug their body absorbs the drug, breaks it down and then eliminates it. The study of this action is called pharmakokinetics. Why is this interesting for moms? Some drugs, even over-the-counter drugs are not good to take when you are pregnant or nursing. Some drugs are ok for nursing, but not pregnancy. How do doctors determine which drugs are ok?
There are reference books, to start with. One of the main reference books for nursing moms is called Medications and Mothers’ Milk by Dr. Thomas Hale. Dr. Hale is a pharmacist and a medical school professor and the publisher of my own book: Doulas’ Guide to Birthing Your Way.
Several factors help decide if a drug should not be taken by a nursing mom. Here are a few to keep in mind:
— Only about 1% of the mother’s dose reaches the baby through her breastmilk in many cases.
–If a mom has a condition which needs a drug, older drugs that have been on the market longer, are often safer than newer and less tested drugs are.
–The side effect that a mom gets from a drug is likely to be the side effect her baby will get (nausea or diarrhea for example).
— Smaller, premature or sicker babies tolerate drugs worse than healthy mature babies do.
–Keep in mind that just because a drug is over-the-counter, doesn’t make it safe for pregnant or nursing mothers.
–Most drugs will allow a mom to continue nursing or another drug can often be found to treat the condition which does!
–There are drugs which are considered safe for nursing moms which treat postpartum depression.
–When in doubt, call your La Leche League Leader or lactation consultant for help with a drug you are unsure of.