Is it safe? Answers to your top breastfeeding worries

Is it safe? Answers to your top breastfeeding worries

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  • Is it safe to…Try to lose weight?

    Yes, if you do it slowly. Plan on it taking at least 10 months to a year to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight.

    Losing weight too quickly releases toxins (PCBs and pesticides) that are stored in your body fat into the bloodstream, which, in turn, increases the amount in the milk supply.

    Don't think that you must wean your baby in order to lose weight. In fact, breastfeeding makes it easier to lose the excess weight because your body uses the stored energy in fat to make milk.

  • Is it safe to…Breastfeed if I’m sick?

    Under most circumstances, the answer is yes. If you have a standard cold, flu, or stomach virus – even if you have a fever – it's fine to breastfeed. In fact, you probably exposed the baby to your illness the day before you began showing symptoms. And since your body is mounting an immune response, you pass those illness-fighting antibodies to your baby when you breastfeed, which will help protect him.

  • Is it safe to…Take cold medicine?

    Yes, there are cold medications that are safe to take while you're breastfeeding.

    Just be careful, because cold medicines often combine several drugs in one liquid or pill. To limit your baby's exposure, avoid products that tackle more than one symptom or that have more than one active ingredient listed.

    Most decongestants are considered safe for breastfeeding, and less than 1 percent of the most commonly used one, pseudoephedrine, ends up in breast milk.

    The cough suppressant dextromethorphan has long been used during breastfeeding and is considered safe.

  • Is it safe to…Take birth control pills?

    Most methods of birth control are safe during breastfeeding, but methods that contain estrogen can lower your milk production.

    Birth control pills usually contain estrogen and progesterone. Taking estrogen, which is naturally low when a woman is breastfeeding, can reduce milk production. Progesterone, which increases during breastfeeding, actually boosts milk production. So a progesterone-only pill (also called the mini pill) is a better choice for nursing moms.

  • Is it safe to…Take painkillers?

    Essentially all common painkillers are safe in the first three to four days after delivery, which is when these painkillers are most often used – as long they're taken as prescribed. That's because in those first few days, a breastfeeding mother produces relatively little milk.

    After that, many painkillers continue to be safe when taken as directed. Narcotics such as codeine are destroyed by your baby's stomach acid and are poorly absorbed out of your baby's intestine. And most non-narcotic pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, are safe unless they're taken in high doses. Your doctor can tell you how much is safe.

  • Is it safe to…Take allergy medicine?

    Yes, there are allergy medications that are safe to take while you're breastfeeding.

    Just be careful, because over-the-counter allergy medications are often combined with other drugs in one liquid or pill. To limit your baby's exposure, it's best to avoid products that tackle more than one symptom at once or that have more than one active ingredient listed.

    Antihistamines are generally considered safe. But so-called first-generation antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) can potentially cause sedation in your baby (just as they can in you), while the second- and third-generation medications such as loratadine (Claritin) and fexofenadine (Allegra) are less likely to.

  • Is it safe to…Get a flu shot or other vaccine?

    Yes, it’s safe. There's no reason you can't get a flu shot or other vaccine while you're breastfeeding.

    In fact, since you're spending most of your time around a newborn, you absolutely should get a flu shot. Children under the age of 2 are at high risk for complications from the flu. By keeping yourself healthy, you are protecting your baby.

    The injected flu shot contains an inactivated or dead virus that stimulates your body to produce antibodies to the flu. These antibodies will fight the virus if you're exposed to it later in the season. The vaccine will not make you transmit the flu to your baby.

  • Is it safe to…Get allergy shots?

    Yes, it is fine for a breastfeeding mom to get allergy shots.

    The allergens are injected into a mom's skin (or sprayed on the lining of her nose) rather than injected into her bloodstream, and for anything to get into breast milk in significant amounts, it needs to get into her blood first. So, the baby's immune cells are not likely to be exposed to the allergen at all.

  • Is it safe to…Drink coffee?

    Yes, it is perfectly safe to have caffeine when you're breastfeeding.

    Though the caffeine you eat and drink does end up in your breast milk, most research suggests that amount is less than one percent of what you ingest. How many cups of coffee are okay? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than three cups daily; La Leche League says that five cups a day is safe.

    Most experts agree that you should limit your caffeine intake to 300 milligrams daily. Find out how much caffeine is in specific beverages.

  • Is it safe to…Have a drink with dinner?

    Only if you wait at least two to three hours before nursing your baby, to give the alcohol a chance to be cleared from your body.

    The same amount of alcohol that makes it into your bloodstream also makes it into your breast milk. While the amount that's transferred if you drink a glass of wine is small, your baby has an immature liver, which means he can't process the alcohol as well as you can.

    If you do have a drink, keep in mind that your blood alcohol levels (and the level of alcohol in your milk) will generally be highest 30 to 90 minutes afterwards.

    Read more about alcohol and nursing moms.

  • Still have questions?

Dana Dubinsky is a health and science editor.

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