Cold Medicine and Breastfeeding

If one needs to take some cold medicine, breastfeeding may be a concern for new mothers. You were told to be careful about taking any medication during pregnancy, but after giving birth, similar precautions also apply if you decide to breastfeed your baby. Here is some information for nursing mothers about taking medicines for colds.

Can I Take Cold Medicine While Breastfeeding?

Yes, but before taking any cold medicine while breastfeeding, you need to know which ones are safe and how to use them properly.

Many cold medicines combine different ingredients in one preparation. This means your baby may be exposed to more than one active ingredient when you take a pill or syrup for colds. Thus, when choosing cold medicine, breastfeeding moms should try to avoid any product that works for various symptoms.

Most cold medicines are considered safe for breastfeeding moms, since they enter milk in minute quantities. Your breastfeeding baby will probably get only a small percentage of the dose you are taking, causing approximately only about one-tenth of the medication’s effect. If you want to be safe, take the medication after breastfeed to limit your baby’s exposure.

When looking for over-the-counter cold remedies, check the medication’s active ingredients and avoid those with large alcohol content. You can also ask your doctor to prescribe medicine that is safe while breastfeeding.

But whatever you do, don’t stop breastfeeding. You can continue breastfeeding even when you have a cold. You pass on antibodies (protective proteins) to your baby through breast milk, which will serve as his/her best defense against catching colds.

What Medicines Are Safe While Breastfeeding?

To be safe, before taking cold medicine, breastfeeding mothers must check with their obstetricians or pediatricians about which medication to take. Although side effects may be minimal, it’s best to be careful when taking any medicine while nursing.

Generally, lozenges, cough drops, and throat sprays are believed to be safe. However, avoid using products that contain menthol, which can affect your milk supply. Here are some other cold medications you can use:

  • Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are approved by experts of the American Academy of Pediatrics for fever and pain.
  • Chlorpheniramine and dexbrompheniramine are both approved, but taking large doses can lower milk supply.
  • Pseudoephedrine is approved by the AAP,but taking large doses can affect milk supply and make an infant irritable.
  • It’s also safe to use saline mist or Vicks VapoRub. Just avoid getting Vicks on your breasts, which can cause your baby to consume it.
  • FDA does not regulate herbal remedies and medications, so they are not recommended for breastfeeding moms, since their safety has not been confirmed.

Safety Measures

When taking cold medicine, breastfeeding mothers should follow some preventative measures to keep your baby safe from side effects:

  • Always read medicine labels and package information for warnings about taking while breastfeeding. Call your baby’s pediatrician, your lactation consultant, or pharmacist for any concerns about taking medicines while breastfeeding.
  • Always take the lowest dose possible for the short periods of time.
  • Use medicine only if you really need to take it. Consider alternative therapies like resting and relaxation, if possible.
  • Try to use preparations with a single active ingredient rather than formulas designed for multiple symptoms. For example, if you have a cough only, use a cough suppressant rather than combinations of cough suppressant and decongestant.
  • Avoid using “extra-strength”, “sustained-release” or “long-acting” formulas because these drugs may remain in your blood stream and in milk supply longer than those drugs that are taken more frequently.
  • Watch for possible drug reactions in your baby like sleepiness, diarrhea, rashes, or colic. These reactions rarely occur, but if you are in doubt, call your doctor when noticing these changes. 

Other Remedies for Cold While Breastfeeding

Besides cold medicine breastfeeding mothers can use, there are also some alternative remedies to try:


Zinc Gluconate is considered safe for breastfeeding moms and their babies. The nasal gel preparation is recommended over oral drops. Zinc is a mineral that is essential for cellular enzymatic functions. The recommended daily allowance is 12-15 mg for adults. Zinc enters breast milk, but growing newborns need zinc. It is considered safe as long as the supplemental dose does not exceed 50 mg per day. Avoid zinc sulfate, which has been shown to be unfavorable for immune system function.

Neti Pot

If you have sinus problems or allergies, use a neti pot to clear your nasal passages during a common cold. It uses only water and you won’t be ingestinganything. Therefore it is very safe for nursing moms and their babies.


Vaporizers using plain water may be useful for moistening your nasal passages and clearing your airways. Avoid using menthol products in the vaporizer because they can irritate the nasal passages of infants.

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