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Can you take cold medicine while nursing? What you need to know about what to avoid

Taking cold medicine while breastfeeding: What is safe for your baby?

So you have a cold? Taking care of yourself while taking care of a new baby is no easy task. But parents don’t get the day off to nurse a sore throat or sleep away a headache. This is, of course, doubly true for nursing moms who need to buck up and offer the breast despite feeling aches, chills, and general malaise.

If you have just a common cold, try to avoid taking any unnecessary medications whenever possible. Your best bet is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, and get plenty of rest — yeah, yeah, we know that tip is a laugh. At some point, though, you may have to pop a pill or take a shot of cherry-flavored syrup to get through a rough patch in your illness. (If you have a fever, flu, or more serious symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor about treatment options.)

In the meantime, if you need a little something, don’t fret. Taking cold medicine while breastfeeding is possible — and there are several options that are generally considered safe. You’ll want to look at the ingredients, do your due diligence, and when in doubt, talk to your doctor or a pharmacist.

Mom holding and breastfeeding baby
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What medicines are safe while breastfeeding in small doses

Desperate times call for desperate measures, but before you reach for any old medication in your cabinet, do a little digging. Here are some options that are generally considered safe for nursing moms and their little ones:

  • Acetaminophen: The active ingredient in Tylenol is a safe and effective option for breastfeeding moms. (There’s a reason it’s often given to brand-new moms at the hospital!) Only a minuscule amount makes it to your milk, so rest assured that there’s nothing to worry about.
  • Ibuprofen: The nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory active ingredient in Motrin and Advil is safe for breastfeeding moms. A tiny amount gets to your milk.
  • Decongestants and antihistamines: Whether it’s allergies or general congestion plaguing you, you can feel assured knowing that most decongestant and antihistamine options are safe during pregnancy (when in doubt, talk to a doctor or pharmacist, though). One important thing to note is that antihistamines have a drying affect — so while they’re effective at quelling your runny nose, they may also temporarily dry up your milk supply. Using a nasal-spray decongestant for a few days can solve your stuffy nose without affecting your supply. Furthermore, antihistamines with the ingredients diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine have a sedative effect, and in addition to making you feel sleepy, they may make baby tired too.
  • Guaifenesin/expectorants: Some expectorants with the active ingredient guaifenesin (i.e., Mucinex or Robitussin) can effectively break up mucus and congestion. They are usually considered safe, but it’s worth noting that there is not a lot of research around its use in breastfeeding moms. However, guaifenesin has been given to infants directly, so the general consensus is that you can feel confident it’s acceptable only when necessary.
  • Lozenges: Got a sore throat? Sucking on a lozenge can help and is totally safe; just don’t overdo it with any that contain menthol — in excess, the ingredient can diminish milk supply.

A new mom checks the medicine cabinet

What medicines are off-limits for your baby while breastfeeding

Warning! These options are mostly no-no’s for breastfeeding moms. Take heed and find an alternative:

  • Cough syrups: There are common active ingredients in cough medicines. Pseudoephedrine is considered safe for breastfeeding, but it has been shown to dry up supply and cause irritability in baby. If your cough syrup has codeine, though, find another option — the ingredient passes through your breast milk and can be dangerous for your little one.
  • Aspirin: You should avoid this option altogether. Though rarely, it can cause a baby to get Reye’s syndrome. If you take aspirin for your heart, talk to your doctor about a low-dose option or alternative medication.
  • NyQuil: It may be tempting to knock yourself out with a hearty dose of NyQuil at night, hoping you’ll wake refreshed and ready to parent. However, NyQuil has a high quantity of alcohol content, making it a less-than-ideal option for breastfeeding moms and their babies.
Woman comparing medications
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What about other supplements and homeopathic options? Which ones are safe?

In general, you don’t want to take too many herbal supplements while pregnant. The main reason for this precaution? Supplements aren’t regulated, and you’re better off taking options that have been heavily vetted for safety and efficacy.

  • Elderberry: You’ll want to avoid this option. While many swear by its natural effectiveness, the risks outweigh the benefits of breastfeeding moms. When not properly processed, it can be toxic and cause severe gastrointestinal issues.
  • Echinacea: While there is a debate about its efficacy (and no medical data proving it works), it’s considered safe for breastfeeding women to take echinacea.
  • Peppermint: If you’re not feeling well, you may be tempted to turn to a cup of peppermint tea. The peppermint can help clear your congestion, while warm tea soothes your throat. Win-win, right? While it’s not unsafe for nursing moms, it should be noted that too much peppermint can reduce your supply — so stick to one cup.
  • Vitamins: Hopefully, you are still taking your prenatal vitamins, but if you want an extra immunity boost while fighting off an illness, you can take some vitamin C (just make sure your total intake doesn’t exceed the daily limit of 2,000 milligrams.) You can also add zinc to your regimen (no more than 40 milligrams). Of course, it should be noted that there’s no hard scientific evidence that proves vitamin C or zinc will help you get over a cold quicker, but it doesn’t hurt to try!
  • Homeopathic remedies: Most homeopathic remedies are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Of course, while medication is sometimes necessary, it’s best to avoid it if possible. With that in mind, try some alternative, more natural methods before you turn to syrups and pills. Breathing in steam and essential oils can clear out a stuffy nose; drinking hot tea with honey can soothe your throat, and rinsing with a solution of apple cider vinegar and water may help. But if all else fails, show yourself some kindness and get medication.

Taking cold medicine while nursing might not be your first choice, but you have to be functional in order to be able to take care of that sweet baby who depends on you so much. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor or your child’s pediatrician about specific ingredients to get the all-clear.

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Lauren Barth
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Lauren Barth is a freelance writer and digital editor with over a decade of experience creating lifestyle, parenting, travel…
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