Can You Take Cold Medicine While Breastfeeding? Doctors Explain
Surprise — it’s complicated.
Taking care of an infant pretty much takes up all your time. But when your sole focus is on keeping your kid healthy (and hopefully sleeping for a solid stretch, preferably at night), you might not even realize that you’re running yourself ragged in the process. And that’s when you can become more susceptible to getting sick. So if you’re sniffling and sneezing and wondering if you can take cold medicine while breastfeeding, this is what you need to know to continue nursing safely through your cold — and feel better, too.
Can I take cold medicine while breastfeeding?
Before you got pregnant, you probably didn’t think twice about taking a Tylenol or cracking open some DayQuil if you were feeling ill. But, if you’re breastfeeding, you don’t want to take anything that could potentially get into your breast milk and be passed along to your little one. You should always check with your doctor or health care provider before taking any medications while breastfeeding, but thankfully, many cold medicines are OK to take while you’re nursing — with one big caveat. “Cold medicine is safe to take when you’re breastfeeding, but it’s better to take single-ingredient medications over ones that have multi regiment active ingredients to avoid unneeded side effects,” Dr.Jessica Auffant, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN with Orlando Health Physician Associates explains to Romper. “We recommend taking only the medication that you need for the symptoms you may have.” So if you’ve only have some stuffiness, you should find medication that specifically targets decongestion, and not a medication that also helps with pain or fever, for example.
What cold medicine can you take while breastfeeding?
Many medications are safe to take while breastfeeding, but you should always check with your doctor before you take anything. When it comes to coughs, in particular, the question of which cold medicines are safe to take while breastfeeding can be tricky. “Cough suppressants with dextromethorphan are safe to take,” Auffant says. Researchers agree, finding that the levels of dextromethorphan (an active ingredient in many cough medicines) in breast milk were very low and not thought to affect a nursing baby. That said, some cough medicine contains alcohol (which is thought to help relax constricted airways and remove mucus, per a PubMed study). “Avoid cough and cold preparations that contain alcohol, povidone-iodine, or caffeine, which means you have to read the label,” adds Auffant. It’s always a good idea to ask your doctor which cold medicines are safe to take while breastfeeding, too.
Many over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are generally considered to be safe for breastfeeding people. Again, it’s a good idea to get clearance from your doctor or health care provider before you take any medications while breastfeeding, but Auffant says that the following medications are generally safe to take while breastfeeding:
- throat sprays
- cough drops work well
What cold medicine can I not take while breastfeeding?
Sudafed, Dayquil, Nyquil and other decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine might affect your milk supply and should be avoided, Auffant explains.
No matter what medication you take, a good extra precaution you can take is to time your dosage with your baby’s feedings. “Taking a medication immediately after nursing will minimize the amount of the medication in breast milk for the next feeding,” Auffant advises.
What can you do for relief if you can’t or don’t want to take medicine?
If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of taking cold medicine, there are plenty of alternative cold remedies that have absolutely zero interaction with the breastfeeding process that you can try to alleviate symptoms. “Try taking a hot shower, drinking warm fluids that have lemon or honey water, and drinking lots of water,” says Auffant. Additionally, gargling salt water can help clear congestion. And, if you don’t have one already, invest in a cool-mist humidifier, which adds moisture to the air and can reduce nasal congestion.
Whether you choose to take cold medicine or just wait it out, the best way to get better is simply to rest — which is easier said than done when you’re nursing a newborn.
Mitchell, J. (1999) Use of cough and cold preparations during breastfeeding, PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10776186/
(2022) Dextromethorphan, LactMed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501456/
Sisson, J. (2007) Alcohol and Airways Function in Health and Disease, PubMed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2081157/
Dr. Jessica Auffant, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN with Orlando Health Physician Associates