What Can I Take for a Cold While Breastfeeding?

Are you sneezing, suffering from a stuffy nose, possible sore throat, and body aches? If this is the case, then you are probably wondering what you can safely take for a cold while breastfeeding but don’t despair because you do have options.


As you know, whatever you put into your body ends up in your breast milk so you want to make sure that whatever you choose is safe for you and your baby. According to Everyday Health, approximately 10 percent of what you consume will be transferred into your breast milk.

This might not seem like a large amount but when you consider the small size of your newborn then you must take into consideration that it is an adequate amount to affect the baby.

Vulnerable to Viruses after Birth

After giving birth you are extremely vulnerable to viruses because your energy level is depleted and you are probably sleep deprived. Your immune system will be at an all-time low so it’s not uncommon to come down with a nasty cold. Unfortunately, many of the common cold and flu medications are off limits to breastfeeding women.

Cold Medications That are Safe to Take While Breastfeeding

You should choose a cold medication that contains only one safe ingredient to effectively treat your primary symptom. Avoid the medications that have a multitude of active ingredients.

  • Coughing:  Simple diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and guaifenesin (Robitussin) are safe to take while breastfeeding.
  • Pain: If you are having body aches or a headache then you might want to take ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or basic aspirin while breastfeeding. Acetaminophen, the medicine found in Tylenol, is labeled as safe for breastfeeding mothers but research has shown that a small amount does transfer into the breastmilk.
  • Congestion: For nasal congestion, it is fine to use a menthol rub (Vicks Vapor Rub) or a saline nasal mist. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) is labeled as safe for breastfeeding women but some newborns become jittery after feeding.  Diphenhydramine is also labeled as safe for breastfeeding moms but it often makes a breastfeeding baby sleepy.
  • A Sore Throat: You can safely take most types of lozenges and sore throat sprays.

Avoid Long Acting Cold Medications

Many cold medication are labeled to be long acting. Some last 12 hours or more. This typically means they are either slow release or they have higher levels of active ingredients. Either way, you should avoid them when breastfeeding. Instead, opt for just normal lasting choices such as four or six hours. This reduces the likelihood of excessive saturation in the milk.

Antihistamines and Your Milk Supply

Antihistamines are generally considered safe for use but they not only dry up your congestion but also your breastmilk. It is not uncommon for nursing moms to notice a decrease in milk production when using cold medication. However, the more established you are at breastfeeding, the less likely your production will be severely altered. Also, you might experience a natural decrease in breast milk production simply from being sick.

When to Take Cold Medications

Ideally, you should take any medications right after you nurse or pump. This will help limit your infant’s exposure. It will also give your body longer to clear out the medication from your system before you again nurse or pump.

Herbal Remedies

Supplements and herbal remedies are not strictly regulated. Just because something is labeled as all natural does not mean that it will be safe. Extreme caution should always be used when opting to try home or holistic remedies.

Safe Natural Choices

Many people opt to use the following natural choices:

  • Honey: Honey coats the throat to relieve a sore, scratchy throat and also reduce coughing. Make sure the honey is 100 percent pure with no additives. It should also be all natural.
  • Salt Water: Gargling with salt water can help alleviate throat discomfort and even break up nasal congestion.
  • Black tea: Black tea with a touch of honey often helps a person feel better. However, remember that tea contains caffeine.

Should You Breastfeed When you Have a Cold?

Many mothers worry about breastfeeding when they have cold but most viruses have an incubation period of five to seven days which means that you have already exposed your baby before your symptoms even develop. So if you have a cold you should continue to breastfeed. In fact, withholding breast milk actually puts your baby at risk of becoming sick. Your breast milk contains antibodies that will protect your baby.

What the Experts Say

“Go with the ingredient that you need, not something that has lots of ingredients, and not something that has sustained release,” says Elisa Ross, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist on staff with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

“But any medicine that will dry up [your nose] will dry up the rest of you,” says Shawna Lamond, director and staff physician at The Alex Breastfeeding Clinic and Riley Park Lactation in Clinic in Calgary.  “Antihistamines decrease milk production.”

“Overall, there are concerns that the regulations aren’t as strict for supplements and other alternative products as they are for medications,” says Michelle Morais, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Pharmacologist Dr. Thomas Hale said, “Breastfeeding mothers with poor or marginal milk production should be exceedingly cautious in using pseudoephedrine” because “it is apparent that mothers in late-stage lactation may be more sensitive to pseudoephedrine and have a greater loss in milk production.”

“Your milk is custom-designed to protect your baby,” explains Jennifer Ritchie, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in Laguna Niguel, California. “There are many stories of the entire family getting sick with something, but not the baby, and that’s because of the antibodies in the breast milk.”

Obviously, you want to do what is right for your baby but you also don’t want to feel miserable with a cold. Luckily, there are safe cold medications that you can take while breastfeeding. However, you should always consult with your physician before making a decision.


Kimberly Sharpe

Based in Florida, Kimberly Sharpe has been a full-time writer since 2006. Her writing has a strong focus on travel, parenting, outdoor sports, gardening, health issues, pets (both domestic and exotic), home improvement, DIY, and business promos. Her work has appeared in USA Today, MORR Gear, Hipmunk, Travelocity, Livestrong, Hotels.com, Hydro Live, Maximum Yield, eHow, Yahoo News, SF Gate, Garden Guides, Whitefence, S.F. Gate, fixr.com, and numerous other publications. She has traveled extensively throughout Europe, India, and Sri Lanka in an effort to expand her knowledge and enhance her writing skills.

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