If you have a lot of questions about the safety of taking allergy meds while breastfeeding, you’ve found yourself in the right place! As a Ph.D. chemist and mother of four, I can help clear up any questions you might have about taking different allergy medications while nursing.
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Allergy Meds While Breastfeeding
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re in late spring and early summer, and we are dealing with so much pollen!
In Pennsylvania where I live, we have a ton of pollen. I lived more south in Georgia for most of my life, and I’m sure right now the pollen there is atrocious! This time of year there is yellow coating everything. It’s terrible. Right now I know lots of people are having problems with their sinuses.
And then still, if you’re in the Southern hemisphere, you are starting in towards fall, winter, and flu season.
So basically no matter where you are, you’re probably dealing with stuffiness and dripping noses, which is even worse when it’s happening to your kids.
But it also is terrible when allergies are happening to you, especially if you’ve got a really young child and you’re breastfeeding. Because of course, if you’re at that stage, you feel miserable. You just want to crawl on a ball, go to sleep, or stay in your bed. But somebody needs you and wants you all the time, possibly every couple of hours and you need help.
You might be looking for some kind of allergy medication to help you get through it.
Can You Take Allergy Meds While Breastfeeding?
You might be worried because you’ve probably heard a lot of different rumors about it not being safe to take certain medications while you’re breastfeeding because they could hurt your baby.
Maybe you’ve heard that some meds aren’t safe to take while breastfeeding because they can go through your breastmilk into your baby or that they can even make your milk dry up. All these different things are out there and some of them can be true, but some of them also could be either misleading or just flat-out incorrect.
So within this article, I will be focusing on many different medicines that you tend to take when you have a cold or sinus problems, even if it’s just a cough. I’ll be covering the safety (or not) of different meds you can or cannot take while breastfeeding that covers a very broad spectrum of respiratory ailments.
Talking to Your Doctor About Allergy Meds While Breastfeeding
Before we get into your questions of, “What allergy meds I can take while breastfeeding,” let me first begin with my usual little caveat.
Be careful when talking to pediatricians or your OB or general practitioners or other healthcare providers about this who are not specifically lactation consultants because through no fault of their own, are not specialists in this matter. When going through medical school or nursing school, not much of the curriculum covers lactation.
This is not their fault, it is simply not within the scope of their curriculum when receiving their doctorate or nursing degree. According to the CDC, “Research shows that physicians generally lack adequate breastfeeding education and training.” Also, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Pediatricians with privileges in newborn care must complete [only] 3 hours of education on breastfeeding management.”
They don’t know much about it unless they go and seek it out and get additional training or certifications beyond their doctorate or nursing degree.
There is a good chance that if you are asking your doctors about the safety of medications while breastfeeding that they’re probably just being handed down what they were told when they were in med school however many years ago. Additionally, that information might not even be whether or not each medication specifically is safe, just that it will get into your breast milk.
That generic information they recall isn’t enough to warrant telling moms not to take anything if they’re in nursing or that they need to pump and dump or give their baby a bottle while they’re sick because that’s not true. They simply haven’t had that education.
There’s always a possibility that you might have a practitioner who is very well-versed in lactation and really know about this, but that’s not the norm. It’s simply easier for most practitioners to tell a breastfeeding mother to just not take a certain medicine or just not to nurse than to actually go and do your due diligence and make sure whether or not a specific medication is safe.
RELATED: Benefits of Breastfeeding By Age
Allergy Meds While Breastfeeding: What’s Safe and What’s Not?
In the rest of this article, we will be going through specific medications, or types of medications, that you can and can’t take by symptom. Then I will also do like a recap of better ideas for natural remedies at the end. I would like to note that my saying that there are natural remedies out there does not mean that you should never take any medicines for your cold, sniffles, or the flu.
All I mean is that you have drugs available to you and you also have natural remedies (from hot showers to elderberry syrup) available to you. Why don’t we use them both?
RELATED: Homemade elderberry syrup recipe
Allergy Meds for Sinus Issues
One very common issue when it comes to allergies is itchy eyes. Something that I dealt with over this weekend that was killing me was itchy eyes and nasal drainage.
All of that kind of stuff where everything just itches inside and bugs you. That’s very common for allergies and is probably caused by the histamine response.
It’s something that your immune system is reacting to. Something foreign that it doesn’t like. If that’s the case the most direct medication to treat these symptoms is an antihistamine.
There are a multitude of different types of antihistamines on the market. Depending on what kind you’re using, they can be safe for both your baby and your milk supply.
The best-studied antihistamine to take while breastfeeding is Zyrtec. Zytec has been shown to be absolutely fine for breastfeeding.
Here is a list of other antihistamines that are safe allergy meds that you can take while breastfeeding:
- Eyedrop antihistamines (These mostly stay in your eyes and out of your bloodstream.)
There are more old-school antihistamines such as Benadryl that do more than simply work on the histamine response. Benadryl and similar medications also tend to dry things up and can indeed decrease your supply. This is particularly true if you use them at high doses or for long periods of time.
For this reason, you don’t want to take Benadryl whenever you are breastfeeding.
Allergy Medications to Treat Cough
The next symptom that you may have caused by either allergies or a cold is a cough; whether it’s a dry cough or wet phlegmy gross cough. There are a few different drugs out there that we often use for either wet or dry coughs.
The first is called dextromethorphan, which is the main ingredient found in Robitussin. If you remember the nasty-tasting cough syrup from when you were a kid, that’s what that is.
Because dextromethorphan is simply a cough suppressant if hasn’t been studied extensively on breastfeeding infants and milk supply. However, it generally seems like it’s safe for moms to use. The most recent information that we have says that the amounts of dextromethorphan and its active metabolite in breast milk are very low and not expected to affect the nursing infant. (source)
They do make a point that if you’re taking a cough syrup that has alcohol in it, that might be something you want to watch out for to not have a large amount of alcohol while you’re breastfeeding. However, I don’t see the amount of alcohol in any dose of cough syrup as being a concern.
Now before you run off to buy a bottle of Robitussin, they’ve found something really interesting. They’ve done studies and it has been shown that it really doesn’t even work that well. However, what they have found, particularly with kids, is that a spoonful of honey is actually more effective.
Honey will coat your throat so that you cough less, making it actually a better choice for both yourself and your kids (as long as they are over one-year-old).
Another common medication for coughing is guaifenesin, which is the active ingredient in Mucinex. Once again, it hasn’t been specifically studied for breastfeeding, but there’s nothing saying that it is unsafe for milk supply or to take while breastfeeding.
It’s worth mentioning that there was a study done in 2014 that found that this drug really doesn’t help people cough up any more than a placebo. So guaifenesin isn’t necessarily supposed to be about being a cough suppressant, it is supposed to thin your mucus and make your coughing more effective. The medication will explain that it is very important to take with a glass of water, but it’s been found that simply drinking a full glass of water will also thin mucus and make your coughs more productive.
Nasal Decongestants for Allergy Symptoms While Breastfeeding
One of the medications that you definitely want to avoid while breastfeeding is Sudafed. The formal name of this drug is pseudoephedrine. This is a nasal decongestant, but it works by drying out your nasal passages so that the actual passages can expand.
If Sudafed is drying out those areas, you can imagine it also dries out other areas like your ducts that produce breast milk. This is why you definitely want to avoid that drug to treat allergies while breastfeeding.
A related drug that’s not quite as strong is phenylephrine which is a nasal decongestant that works as a vasoconstrictor.
Vasoconstrictors keep fluid from your blood vessels and from flowing out into surrounding tissues, which is basically how breast milk is made. That’s a simplified version of what’s happening, but it’s definitely something you want to avoid.
Phenylephrine is not as strong as pseudoephedrine like I said, but it still is still questionable at best to use while breastfeeding. Aside from the drop in breast milk supply that it can cause, it has been shown to cause irritability in infants when it passes through breast milk.
The last thing you want when you’re sick is a cranky baby who’s not going to sleep and not gonna let you sleep or rest.
Other Nasal Decongestants
I recommend skipping any kind of oral or pill form of nasal decongestants while breastfeeding. With that said, there are a couple of different things you could take instead. Flonase or Nasacort you should be able to get over the counter. You can also get them by prescription.
Both Flonase and Nasacort are steroid nasal sprays that help both sinus pressure and congestion.
They’re totally safe for your milk supply and for your baby. But just be aware, they don’t just magically work. It might take several days to even a week to get these types of medications to work for you.
Another thing that works pretty well is Afrin which has the active ingredient oxymetazoline in it. This is also a nasal spray and a vasoconstrictor. Since you spray it right into your nasal passages, (unlike the aforementioned medications) it doesn’t cross into your blood supply so it doesn’t even get down into your milk.
Afrin works within just a couple of minutes and it feels pretty intense. If you’ve ever used it, you will recall the sudden relieved feeling of, “Oh, I can breathe!” The only problem with it is that you can’t use Afrin for more than about three days in a row because you can then get rebound congestion. At this point, your body basically becomes addicted to it which can cause rebound congestion if you don’t continue taking it.
So you do need to be very cautious when using Afrin. For example, I try to simply use it at night so that I can breathe to sleep.
Related: Zoloft and Antidepressants While Breastfeeding
Natural Remedies for Allergies While Breastfeeding
There are also a lot of natural remedies that we can use to help nasal congestion as well.
Steamy Shower or Humidifier
One thing that I really love is to either take a steamy shower or have a humidifier on hand when I’m congested. Those can be really helpful. You can also get shower tablets that smell good and help you to open up your nasal passages. They’re small and called shower tabs. You can simply throw those at the bottom of your shower and let them dissolve and release their medicine.
Something to keep in mind while you’re doing either humidifier or one of those shower steamers is to be careful to not use anything that has camphor in it because camphor makes it harder for kids under two to breathe. If you have a nursing baby or toddler, there’s a good chance that they are too young to be around that. If you do add anything to your humidifier be sure it is a baby version such as baby Vicks.
Having hot tea or broth and lots of different fluids around is a great natural remedy because it loosens mucus. Additionally, the steam from a warm drink helps your nasal passages.
Ingredients to add to warm broth that are also good for a cold:
- a smashed clove of garlic
- a few peppercorns
- a slice of ginger
RELATED: Cold busting ginger turmeric chicken soup
A Spoonful of Honey
For yourself or your kids (after age one) take a spoon full of honey right before bed. This will coat the throat and help to calm that cough down while you’re sleeping. Additionally, you can add a spoonful to your warm tea for multiple benefits.
Rest a Lot
The most important thing that you need is rest. Lots of rest will help you feel better.
How to Remember Which Allergy Meds While Breastfeeding Are OK
If even after reading this article you’re still nervous about which drugs you can take, which ones you can’t, what is totally okay, and which can be used occasionally, there’s an amazing app you can use to check anytime.
I’m not an affiliate for it, so there’s nothing financially in it for me if you sign up. It is simply a fantastic app that is really helpful.
The app is called MommyMeds and is created by Dr. Thomas Hale. He is the expert on all the different medications out there and how they affect lactation. His lab has created an app that’s very low-cost and lists almost every single drug.
- You can use it to look up whatever medication you’re interested in and it will give you information on how it affects lactation.
- It’ll give you information on how it affects pregnancy.
- It can give you info about whether or not a certain med passes into breast milk and what happens if it does.
The app can also be helpful if you’d like to get a certain medication from your doctor (or you are informing them that you are taking it already) while you are breastfeeding. They may try to tell you that you can’t take X, Y, or Z because you’re breastfeeding. You can simply pull it up on MommyMeds and easily show them studies and findings to support your using that medication and its safety during breastfeeding.
If you have any other questions about breastfeeding, medication while breastfeeding, or even that app feel free to reach out to me in the comments below.