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NotificationsNotify me of updates to MEDICINES FOR BREASTFEEDING WOMEN: RISKY BUSINESS?, pp. 129-141
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Authors:  Lisa H. Amir
In the postpartum period, many women experience conditions which require
treatment with medicines, such as analgesics or antibiotics. However, pharmaceutical
companies remain cautious about the use of medicines in women who are lactating. Their
advice to physicians is usually to weigh the risks against the benefits. Yet, what are these
risks and benefits?
How risky is it for a breastfeeding woman to take medication? Considering the large
numbers of women who breastfeed and take medicines, very few ill-effects are reported
for the infant.
The drug companies claim that breastfeeding while the mother is taking medication
may be risky. But what are the alternatives if the mother does not breastfeed? Preferred
infant feeding options include mother’s stored milk or milk from other mothers (human
milk bank or wet nurse). However, most parents would use infant formula in this
situation. Yet the risks of using infant formula are rarely considered by parents or health
professionals. The recent melamine crisis in infant formula in China serves to remind us
that infant formula is not risk-free. Powdered infant formula may be contaminated with
bacteria, pesticides or other environmental contaminants, or even intentionally poisoned
with a chemical such as melamine.
Breastfeeding is being actively promoted in many countries, yet the issue of maternal
medication during breastfeeding has received little attention. Many health professionals
and mothers are unsure about the safety of using medicines during lactation. In some
instances, women are being told to stop breastfeeding unnecessarily by their health
providers, or women may feel too unsure about the safety of their medication and do not
comply with medication use or give their child formula, “to be on the safe side”.
Action is urgently needed to develop evidence-based guidelines for the use of
medicines by breastfeeding women. This information needs to be readily accessible to all
women and health providers. 

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