Asthma Medication and Breast-Feeding
Mothers can often still breast-feed even if they have to take medicine to control asthma. Here’s what nursing moms need to know.
Many women with asthma take medicine to treat the condition all through their pregnancies. After delivery, these new moms may still need to take asthma drugs to keep their symptoms under control. Thankfully, in most cases, it is safe for them to breast-feed their babies even while they continue asthma treatment with oral and inhaled medication.
Benefits of breast-feeding
Many mothers are eager to breast-feed their babies. After all, breast-milk is a perfect food for infants. It contains natural antibodies and may even help prevent illness and ward off infection early in life. All in all, doctors agree that breast milk is the best food for babies.
Putting fears to rest
Many drugs do pass into breast milk. But, thankfully, the amounts are often so small that they do not always have an effect on breast-fed babies. Many drugs that are safe to use during pregnancy are also safe to use while nursing. If you are taking any medications, check with your doctor before you start nursing.
Experts agree that bronchodilator inhalers can usually be used while nursing. Low-dose, oral steroids can often be used while breast-feeding. However, your doctor may change the type of steroid or tell you to avoid nursing for a certain amount of time after you take it if you are on a high dose. Inhaled steroids may be preferred, if indicated, because a little less is absorbed into the bloodstream.
There are a few exceptions, though. The drug theophylline, for example, may cause newborns and preterm infants to become irritable and have trouble feeding. Also, leukotriene modifiers (zafirlukast and montelukast) have not been studied with regard to breast-feeding, although the amount passed through breast-milk is low. You may want to talk to your doctor about other options that have been more closely studied. But if you must use them, that alone is usually not a reason to stop breast-feeding.
Some mothers worry that medicines may impair their milk supply, too. Most drugs to treat asthma will not have this affect. Decongestants and some antihistamines, though, can have a drying effect on a mother’s milk. These include the active ingredients in drugs like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Sudafed (pseudoephedrine). This is true especially if they are used before a good milk supply is established, or if they are taken in high doses or for a prolonged period of time. Talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant if you’re not sure about whether a certain drug is safe to take.
Keeping symptoms at bay
It’s important to keep treating your asthma after your baby is born. Limiting your exposure to allergens and dust can help reduce the severity of your asthma symptoms. Keep seeing your allergist or immunologist as needed. Make sure he or she knows that you are planning to breast-feed. Do not stop any asthma medicine unless your doctor says to. Also, let your child’s pediatrician know what medications you’re taking while breast-feeding.
Having a new baby at home can be overwhelming, and it may take some time for both of you to get used to breast-feeding. Keeping your asthma under control will give you one less thing to worry about during this stressful but exciting time.