MEDICINES FOR BREASTFEEDING WOMEN: RISKY BUSINESS?, pp. 129-141
Authors: Lisa H. Amir
Abstract: 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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