According to a new report by a group of leading U.S. pediatricians, most moms who are breast-feeding can safely take the medications and vaccines they need without fearing that they will harm their nursing infant. This report came from the American Academy of Pediatrics with consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) describing proposed changes to drug labels. These new labels would replace the “Nursing Mothers” section currently in place with the heading called “Lactation.” This new section would give the reader more detailed information about the transfer of drugs to breast milk and the potential of harm to a breast-feeding baby.
These proposed changes to the drug labels are a part of an FDA push to require drug makers to study how their medications may affect breast-feeding as well as to have this information better communicated to women and doctors. Due to the benefits of breast-feeding to infants and the mother both developmentally and to their health, the FDA is encouraging the research in this are so physicians will be able to make informed decisions in the treatment of their patients.
Advocates of breast-feeding are encouraged by this report. The message of this report is that many drugs are compatible with breast-feeding. Mothers do not necessarily have to wean to take drugs and that the labels on the drugs should reflect this. This is good news and progress for breast-feeding mothers.
Currently, the majority of drug labels carry a blanket legal statement cautioning against taking nearly any medications during pregnancy. Even the database, LactMed, of information on the transfer of certain drugs to breast milk that is maintained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine only contains information on more than 450 drugs. This is only a fraction of the 3,000 different types of pharmaceuticals available. This is due to the fact that most other medications have not been studied in women who are breast-feeding.
However, even if there have not been lactation studies conducted on a specific drug, a doctor can still make educated guesses as to whether the drug will pass into breast milk and if it will harm the baby based on the size of the molecule and the other chemical properties of the drug. The length of treatment should also be considered by doctors when they make a determination about drug use.
There have been some clear cases where the use of medications have caused harm to nursing infants and therefore require at the very least a temporary cessation of breast-feeding. In some cases, procedures can be delayed until the woman has stopped breast-feeding. In cases of drugs that cause problems in breast-fed infants, it has been suggested that doctors not prescribe these drugs to nursing moms.
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