Breastfeeding and Drugs in Breastmilk

The Breastfeeding Network’s Drugs in Breastmilk Service will be exhibiting at our event in Manchester on Thursday 6th October.  The service is headed up by pharmacist Dr Wendy Jones, and is an invaluable resource for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The day after our event, Wendy is teaming up with our sponsors the LIFIB (Local Infant Feeding Information Board) to provide a workshop in Blackpool for healthcare professionals, entitled Prescribing for Infants and Breastfeeding Mothers.  More information here: 

Our thanks to Wendy for her support for our event, and for providing this blog post for us about her work and experiences.


The time in a woman’s life when she is pregnant, giving birth and breastfeeding is a unique period. All of us remember the smallest details as we grow older. Even after thirty years as a breastfeeding support worker I am humbled and amazed at the way older women (yes there are still a few older than me!) want to tell me what happened to them.

How we feed our babies influences our attitude to infant feeding in the future which is why it is so difficult for women who come from bottle feeding families to feel comfortable with breastfeeding. They have neither seen breastfeeding as normal nor usually do they feel wholehearted support for their chosen feeding method. Subtle comments about milk quality and content may be common, undermining their confidence in their body’s ability to sustain their baby.

Nurturing our babies is a unique way of showing our love for them so it is unsurprising that the breast: bottle debate is always so heated and felt so personally.

It has become increasingly apparent to me that some healthcare professionals underestimate the importance to mothers of continuing to breastfeed. In pregnancy we bombard them with information on the “advantages” of breastfeeding. In fact there are no advantages. What? I hear you splutter. Consumption of its mother’s milk is the biological norm for a mammal. It is in fact artificial formula – prepared from the milk of a different mammal, normally a cow – which is the intervention. As it does not, and cannot have the biological specificity that breastmilk has then it inherently has disadvantages.

Some women feel passionately about breastfeeding before the birth of their baby – I know I did – and will go to any lengths to find a way to feed and overcome any difficulties on their way. Others are more equivocal and will talk about “trying if I can”. These women may become totally committed to feeding after the first few days or weeks and have discovered in themselves a passion. Breastfeeding doesn’t come easily to everyone these days. We have the equipment but not necessarily the support to enable us to achieve a pain free latch immediately. If it hurts we may be told by others that it doesn’t matter, that formula is as good, that a couple of bottles won’t hurt to give the nipples a rest and chance to heal, that Dad is willing to feed the baby overnight so mum can get some well-earned sleep. The more useful comment to a mother struggling is how to find support to make feeding pain-free – be that by a person who can spend time with the mother and baby, via internet links, via social media, by telephone helplines which ever works for the family.

All of us are anxious to provide the perfect start in life for our babies – it is an innate and natural instinct to protect this precious new life to the point of being willing to lay down our life for him or her. So for those of us who choose to breastfeed we want to know that our milk is pure and unpolluted, perfect in every way for our baby. If we choose to formula feed we trust that the manufacturer has undertaken the research to ensure their product is an adequate substitute. How then do we regard taking medication which will get into our milk and pass to our baby? We also have an increasing number of mothers who are still breastfeeding when they fall pregnant again so are concerned about keeping both children safe.

It fascinates me that mothers can be so scared about what will affect their babies that they not only refuse medication for headaches, colds etc. preferring to let their bodies heal themselves, but that they also question much more simple products. So over the years I have been asked if it is safe to have false nails fitted when breastfeeding and indeed if nail varnish itself is safe, whether drinking Ovaltine is safe, whether a breastfeeding mum can have her hair dyed or straightened.


There is sadly a paucity of research on the safety of drugs in breastmilk. There appear to be a few specialist workers who actively collate information on exposure to infants of newer drugs via breastmilk. My aim is to equip women with the voice to ask for the help they need to find appropriate treatment without compromising the breastfeeding relationship with their baby.

The importance of breastfeeding to a mother with mental health issues seems particularly important to me. It takes courage to make an appointment and go to see your GP to explain you are feeling anxious or depressed. To have your wishes to continue to breastfeed dismissed is soul destroying. GPs and all healthcare professionals need to have compassion for the mother as well as knowledge about the safety of the drugs passing through breastmilk.

I am delighted to be part of the Growing Families Conference and to spread the word to mums, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents as well as healthcare professionals that mothers can be prescribed medication and continue to breastfeed without harming the baby.


Wendy Jones
The Breastfeeding Network Drugs in Breastmilk Helpline
September 2016

Drugs In Breastmilk helpline: 0844 412 4665.

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