Can You Take Flu Medicine While Breastfeeding?

The flu can be mild, or it can be severe, and pregnant women, young children, and older adults are most at risk for developing complications related to the flu. Nursing mothers often have many questions about the flu. First and foremost, the flu can’t be spread to a baby through breastmilk, and if a nursing mom gets the flu, she should continue breastfeeding. Breast milk contains antibodies and other protective elements that can actually help a newborn avoid getting the flu. Even if a mother is sick, in most cases, breast milk is the recommended form of nutrition for a baby. If a nursing mother is too sick to breastfeed, the general medical advice is to continue trying to express milk in order to keep up her supply and also provide the baby with nutrition. Some mothers experience a decline in their milk supply when they’re sick, but there are ways to avoid this.

Even though continued breastfeeding is the recommendation, it is still important to try and keep a newborn protected against the flu. Moms with the flu should wash their hands frequently and also make sure they’re thoroughly cleaning anything that comes in contact with the baby. Sometimes the best option may be to pump milk and then have someone who isn’t sick give it to the baby in order to avoid spreading the virus. The flu vaccine is safe for breastfeeding mothers, as well as for babies who are least six months old.

Is flu medicine safe for breastfeeding? Overall, most types of prescription antiviral medications are safe for breastfeeding mothers. There are also over-the-counter cold medications that can help treat symptoms of the flu and are considered to be safe while breastfeeding. The recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is that women in the early postpartum phase should be treated with an antiviral medication if they have the flu since they are at a higher risk for complications. The preferred antiviral medication for breastfeeding mothers is oseltamivir, which can treat influenza A and B. The CDC states that adverse effects are unlikely with this medication as very little of it passes through breast milk.

Effects of Flu Medicine on a Breastfeeding Baby

Along with the prescription antiviral medication oseltamivir, which is unlikely to have adverse effects on a nursing baby, other over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can be used while breastfeeding as well. OTC medicines aren’t antiviral treatments, but they can help with symptoms and allow a breastfeeding mom to feel more comfortable as she recovers from the flu. Most cold and flu medicines available over-the-counter are considered to be safe. The primary thing to avoid is the use of any medicine that causes sedation since these medications can also cause sedation in the breastfeeding baby. Medicines that cause drowsiness or impairment can also make it more difficult for a nursing mom to breastfeed her baby or take care of the baby.

Other than avoiding medicines with sedative effects, nursing moms might also want to avoid anything with the active ingredient pseudoephedrine. It’s not necessarily harmful to a nursing baby, but this ingredient can substantially reduce milk supply. Pseudoephedrine has been linked to a reduction in milk supply of up to 24 percent, in some studies.

If you are choosing an OTC flu medicine and you’re breastfeeding, there are general things to keep in mind. First, try to avoid extended-release or long-lasting medicines. These are more likely to be passed to a nursing baby through breastmilk. Instead, opt for immediate-release medicines. Also, try to take any cold or flu medicines right after breastfeeding and then wait at least two hours before nursing again, if possible.

Alternatives to Taking Flu Medicine While Breastfeeding

If you get the flu, you should follow your doctor’s recommendations. It’s a serious illness and if an antiviral medication is prescribed, it should be used even when breastfeeding. Women who have recently given birth are especially at risk for complications related to the flu. While antiviral medicines can be used when prescribed, there are natural steps that can be taken to shorten the length of the sickness as well. Omega-3 supplements can be helpful as can vitamin D, which has been shown to have antiviral properties. Maintaining a healthy diet and drinking plenty of fluids are also important steps to take when you are sick and breastfeeding. Don’t stop breastfeeding if you have the flu, however, if you are too sick and are worried about exposing your baby, express milk and have someone else give it to the baby while you recover.

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.