NyQuil and nursing: What you need to know

NyQuil cough, cold, and flu-relief products are one of the most popular nighttime remedies out there, but are they safe to use while breastfeeding? To be honest, this is a complex medical topic that you should discuss with your trusted licensed medical professional.

NyQuil and other similar nighttime cold and flu relief medications can be perfectly safe for most women, though you will want to be precise about which product you choose.

Cold medications, breastfeeding, and your baby

Mother kissing her baby
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You wake up in the middle of the night with all the usual symptoms: Headache, chills, coughing, sneezing, and all-around not feeling like the top mom you usually are. We’ve all been there before, but now that you are a parent, you’ve learned that you need to think things through that you might not have ever considered before.

Breastfeeding your child is important to you, and if possible you don’t want to let a cold get in the way of that. Is it safe to continue nursing if you are using over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as NyQuil? When it comes to the rules of parenting, it is smart to always refer to the guidance of your pediatrician. They know your medical history and can offer the best advice your family needs for all things related to the health of your growing family.

That being said, medical professionals tend to suggest that there is no issue taking an OTC pill or formula such as NyQuil, or a generic version, as long as you follow one little rule. Most doctors recommend choosing a version of these products that is clearly labeled as being “alcohol-free.”

Though the actual amount of alcohol present in OTC cough syrups and pills, such as NyQuil, is quite small, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend that nursing women consume any. Therefore, they recommend that any woman who drinks alcohol or uses an OTC cold, cough, and flu remedy containing it wait at least two hours before nursing their child.

What’s in your cough medicine, anyway?

“Alcohol-free” cold medication formulations are considered safer for nursing moms, though you might consider how other drugs within these formulas can affect your child. Alcohol is actually considered an “inactive” ingredient in cough medications. This means that though it is part of the formula, it is not actually considered one of the essential elements of the medicine.

Depending on which NyQuil product you choose, there are a variety of active ingredients typically present in these medications. Your doctor or trusted pharmacist is the best person to advise you on the safety of using these drugs while nursing. That said, many medical professionals caution against using these products with a child that is less than 2 months of age.

NyQuil products are likely to contain the following active ingredients:

  • Vicks NyQuil Cough Syrups and Pills (dextromethorphan, doxylamine)
  • Vicks NyQuil Cold & Flu Syrups and Pills (acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, doxylamine)
  • Vicks NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu Syrups and Pills (acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, doxylamine, phenylephrine)Though none of these active ingredients is considered particularly dangerous for nursing moms, only you and your doctor can decide with certainty what is best for your family.

Phenylephrine, for instance, has been found to reduce the amount of milk nursing women produce, though because the body is only able to absorb small amounts of it, the actual effect on milk production is quite low. Doxylamine has been found to have a similar effect on milk production while also leading to babies that are a bit crankier, sleepier, and crying more.

These potential negative effects have not been recorded in all women or children, but they are worth considering.

To make the smartest choice, it is essential to consider what ingredients are present in the NyQuil product you are choosing, and if possible, speak with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure they agree it is safe for you to use.

Ultimately, every decision you make as a parent is important to your family’s future. Don’t be afraid to take the time to ask questions or inform yourself about topics you might not be familiar with yet.

Useful alternatives to consider

If you are not feeling your best and unsure if a NyQuil cold & flu remedy is right for you, maybe you could consider one of the following alternatives. Over-the-counter medications can be useful to relieve the symptoms of a cold, but there are many traditional remedies that have been proven to work, as well.

Taking a hot bath can offer much the same relief and assist sleeping in the way alcohol-containing cough syrups do. If you add a hot beverage such as black tea with honey, you might see additional relief. Vitamin C, whether taken in the form of foods or supplements, can also help to fortify your immune system and offer some relief from your cold symptoms.

Additionally, just practicing some deep-breathing exercises can help many people to feel some relief from their persistent cold symptoms. There are many safe alternatives to consider that could help you sleep more soundly through your cold and take care of your baby.

Making the best choice for your family

Mother holding her baby in bed
Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock

In many cases, it is safe to take NyQuil products while nursing. Some doctors do not recommend these products for children younger than 2 months of age. Additionally, certain ingredients within cold and cough medicines are considered less safe for nursing women.

Generally, doctors recommend that nursing women choose alcohol-free products whenever possible. Nursing moms can safely use many alcohol-free versions of popular cold, cough, and flu medications such as NyQuil. That said, you might want to research the active and inactive ingredients in whatever over-the-counter medications you consider.

If you have questions, be sure to consult your doctor or pharmacist.

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