To take a shot of DayQuil or suffer with the sniffles... Enter: this guide to taking cold medicines while breastfeeding.

By Megan Falk
January 20, 2020

When you already have a baby tugging at your chest to nurse 12 times a day, a coughing fit that travels deep into your core—and the cold that comes with it—is the last thing your body needs. And when the congestion, headaches, and chills won’t seem to quit, the bottle of DayQuil under the bathroom sink starts to look more and more appealing.

But Is It Safe to Take Cold Medicine While Breastfeeding?

“Many medications can pass from the mother to baby during breastfeeding,” says Sherry A. Ross, M.D., ob-gyn and author of She-ology and She-ology: The She-quel. “However, most are considered safe to use.” (Related: The Best Cold Medicines for Every Symptom)

On that list of cold medicines safe for breastfeeding? Antihistamines, nasal decongestants, cough suppressants, and expectorants. If your sniffles are paired with a fever and headache, you can also try a pain-relieving medication with ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen sodium—ingredients that are generally safe for breastfeeding mothers to consume, says Dr. Ross. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has also given its stamp of approval to these active ingredients for short-term use, as small amounts of ibuprofen and less than 1 percent of naproxen are passed into breast milk. (On that note, you might want to consider how much sugary food affects your breastmilk.)

Every Medication Should Be Considered On a Case-by-Case Basis.

Even if it’s generally safe to take a particular cold medicine while breastfeeding, there's still a chance of side effects. Drugs containing phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine—common decongestants found in meds like Sudafed Congestion PE and Mucinex D—can decrease breast milk production, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). In a small study, eight nursing mothers who took four 60-mg doses of pseudoephedrine daily saw a 24-percent decline in the amount of milk they produced. So, if you're a new mom whose lactation "is not yet well established" or have difficulties producing enough milk for your little one, your best bet is to steer clear of these ingredients, per the NLM. (Yep, the breastfeeding struggles are real—just take it from Hilary Duff.)

Some antihistamines containing diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine could make both you and your baby sleepy and sluggish, says Dr. Ross. She recommends finding non-drowsy alternatives to these medications, as well as avoiding medicines with a high alcohol content, which can have similar effects. (For example, liquid Nyquil contains 10-percent alcohol. Ask a pharmacist or your doctor to confirm if the medicine you're taking is alcohol-free, considering it's not recommended to consume alcohol while breastfeeding.) If you choose to take a cold medication with these active ingredients, consider using a small dose of 2 to 4 mg after your last feeding of the day and before bed to minimize any side effects, according to the NLM. TL;DR: be sure to examine the ingredient label before dropping anything into your cart.

And, need not forget, the child's age also plays a role in a drug’s safety while nursing too. Research has found that babies younger than two months old who were exposed to medications via lactation experienced more adverse reactions than infants older than six months.

The Bottom Line

Although some women may avoid taking medications out of fear of harmful side effects, the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risk of exposure to most medications through breast milk, notes the AAP. When in doubt about a particular drug’s safety, Dr. Ross recommends talking to your healthcare provider about taking cold medicine while breastfeeding and don’t consume a larger dose than advised. “Overmedicating with cold medications can be harmful, even for those approved to be safe while breastfeeding,” she says. (Instead, you might want to try out some of these natural cold remedies.)

To get back to bringing your parenting A-game, use these medications designed to silence your cough and sniffles. If the medication is non-drowsy, try taking it at the time of breastfeeding or immediately after to minimize your baby's exposure and consult your doctor if your baby is showing any unusual symptoms like sleepiness or irritability, per the AAP

Cold Medicines Generally Safe to Take While Breastfeeding 

  • Acetaminophen: Tylenol, Excedrin (Excedrin also contains aspirin, which the AAP considers to be safe for breastfeeding mothers in low doses.)
  • Chlorpheniramine: Coricidin
  • Dextromethorphan: Alka-Seltzer Plus Mucus and Congestion, Tylenol Cough and Cold, Vicks DayQuil Cough, Vicks NyQuil Cold and Flu Relief, Zicam Cough MAX
  • Fexofenadine: Allegra
  • Guaifenesin: Robitussin, Mucinex
  • Ibuprofen: Advil, Motrin
  • Loratadine: Claritin, Alavert
  • Naproxen
  • Throat lozenges
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