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Taking medicines when breastfeeding

When you are breastfeeding, medicines you take may pass into your breastmilk. Deciding to use any medicine involves weighing up the potential benefits and risks. 

2 min read

Can I take medicines when I’m breastfeeding?

When you are breastfeeding, medicines you take that can pass into breastmilk will usually be at such low concentrations that they won’t present a risk to your baby. However, there are some medicines that can pass into the milk at high enough concentrations to cause side effects in babies.

Prescription medicines are not the only medicines that you may need to be careful about using while breastfeeding. Non-prescription medicines, herbal and natural medicines, and vitamin and mineral supplements may also have risks. 

So before taking any medicine, check with a trusted health professional about the effect that it could have on your baby and potential effects on breastmilk production. 

Call the Medicines Line

If you are breastfeeding and have questions about medicines, you can call the Medicines Line on 1300 633 424 or 1300 MEDICINE (Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm AEST) and speak to a registered pharmacist about medicines (prescription, over-the-counter and complementary). 

What to consider with commonly used medicines and breastfeeding

Some of the most common queries to the Medicines Line are about breastfeeding and commonly used medicines for coughs and colds, pain and fever, and hayfever.

  • Coughs and colds – If you are breastfeeding, ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable treatment for your specific cough or cold symptoms. See your doctor if symptoms persist or become worse. Combination cough and cold products may contain ingredients that could interfere with milk supply, or may cause side effects in your baby. Check with your pharmacist before taking these.
  • Pain and fever – For pain and fever, paracetamol is the best choice for breastfeeding mothers. It can be used at the dose recommended on the packaging. Ibuprofen is one of the most commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for breastfeeding mothers, and it can also be used safely at the recommended dose. Before taking ibuprofen check with your doctor or pharmacist if you have other health conditions (such as asthma or stomach irritation) or are taking other medicines.
  • Hayfever – The packaging of some antihistamine medicines contains a warning about using these medicines while breastfeeding. If an antihistamine is needed for the treatment of hayfever, antihistamines that don’t cause drowsiness (eg, loratadine) are preferred. Nasal sprays may also be a suitable option. These pass into breastmilk in small quantities and are less likely to cause adverse effects in a breastfed baby. Talk to your health professional to make sure that an antihistamine or nasal spray is the most appropriate treatment option for you.  

What about complementary medicines and breastfeeding?

Remember that medicines don’t just come on prescription – they include over-the-counter and complementary medicines.

Complementary medicines (also known as ‘traditional’ or ‘alternative’ medicines) include vitamin, mineral, herbal, aromatherapy and homeopathic products.

Like other medicines, complementary medicines are used for their benefits, but they can also have side effects, cause allergic reactions, or interact with prescription medicines.

Many complementary medicines do not undergo the same level of clinical research that prescription and over-the-counter medicines do before they can be sold in Australia. So often less is known about their effectiveness, side effects and interactions with other medicines. Some may have very little information about their safe use while breastfeeding, so ask your health professional for advice. 

Where can I get more information?

Call the Medicines Line

Questions about taking medicines during pregnancy and breastfeeding are some of the most common queries directed to the registered pharmacists on the Medicines Line. Phone them on 1300 633 424 or 1300 MEDICINE (Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm AEST) for free telephone advice about medicines (prescription, over-the-counter and complementary).

Where can I go for help?

If you are breastfeeding and would like to find out more about a particular medicine:

  • Call Medicines Line on 1300 633 424 (Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm AEST)
  • Talk to your health care team – your doctor, pharmacist or midwife
  • Read the packaging, labels and information for your medicine (also available on our website through the Medicine Finder or from your pharmacist or doctor
  • Contact your local women and children’s medical service and/or hospital
  • Mothersafe factsheets from Sydney's Royal Hospital for Women
2 min read

Date published: 22 August 2018
Reasonable care is taken to provide accurate information at the time of creation. This information is not intended as a substitute for medical advice and should not be exclusively relied on to manage or diagnose a medical condition. NPS MedicineWise disclaims all liability (including for negligence) for any loss, damage or injury resulting from reliance on or use of this information. Read our full disclaimer. This website uses cookies. Read our privacy policy.