Breastfeeding While Taking Decongestants

Breastfeeding While Taking Decongestants

Winter, along with flu season may be over but now is not the time to let your guard down. The transition from the cold winter air to the warmer temperatures of springtime—not to mention the dreaded influx of pollen from blooming flowers and trees – heralds the season for colds and allergies.

While extremely annoying, cold and allergies are not considered a danger to your health unless you are severely immunocompromised or have other underlying conditions.

Treating your cold will depend on several factors, so before taking any medications, you should seek professional medical help, either from a doctor or pharmacist. 

If you have a head cold, you will likely experience symptoms such as a clogged or runny nose, sneezing, headache, and mild fever. With chest cold, your airways produce more mucus, which causes phlegm to build up and makes you want to cough. 

Both types of colds are caused mainly by viruses and last for a week or two. If your symptoms don’t improve or worsen after this time or after taking medications, there may be a chance of a more severe infection or disease, and you should seek out consultation from a doctor.

Differences Between Head Colds, Chest Colds, and Bacterial Infections

Head ColdChest ColdBacterial Infection(e.g., pneumonia, bronchitis)
Stuffy/runny nose
Sneeze
Cough
Phlegm/sputum
ColorWhite-to-gray Yellow-green
Shortness of breath
Headache
FeverLow-gradeLow-gradeMid-to-high-grade fever
Body malaise
Duration of symptoms1-2 weeks1-2 weeks>2 weeks

Low-grade fever = temperatures below 100.4°F; high-grade fever = temperatures above 100.4°F

Note: this only serves as a general guideline. It is possible to experience symptoms found under other conditions that were marked otherwise. If you experience a high fever, red-tinged phlegm, or symptoms that last for more than two weeks, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

How do I treat a cold while breastfeeding?

If you are breastfeeding or pumping breast milk to stock in the fridge, you can take the majority of cold medications safely without worrying about affecting the milk or your baby.

Enlarged blood vessels block the flow of air and increase the pressure in the sinuses—resulting in the typical, annoying cold symptoms. Decongestants work by temporarily constricting the small blood vessels in the nose and sinuses that block the nasal passages. 

When decongestant medications are taken by mouth, the vasoconstricting effect is not limited only to the blood vessels in the nose and sinuses but may also affect the vessels of the skin, eyes, and other organs of the body. This systemic vasoconstricting effect may pose a problem for people taking medications for conditions like hypertension.

Can a baby catch a cold from breastfeeding?

A variety of viruses can cause the common cold. These viruses do not pass into breast milk, which makes breastfeeding safe and even encouraged because breastmilk contains nutrients and antibodies which boost the immunity of babies. However, due to the close contact between a mother and child, there is still a sizeable chance of transmitting the virus through other means.

To prevent spreading germs to your child, try to limit close contact with them while you are sick and a few days after recovering. Most viruses are spread through contact with contaminated surfaces or through respiratory droplets. Practice proper and regular handwashing before and after breastfeeding your baby. Avoid sneezing or wiping your nose while breastfeeding. Wearing a face mask is an effective way to prevent spreading respiratory droplets.

Pumping your breastmilk and having someone else in the house feed the baby is an excellent alternative to direct nursing. Make sure to clean and disinfect bottles thoroughly after they are used. Boiling, autoclaving, or using a disinfecting solution should do the trick.

What to do if my baby catches my cold?

While the common cold is not the most dangerous illness you could have, infants and children have less developed immune systems. Because of this, even a short bout of coughing and sneezing can pose a threat to your child’s health.

In the case your child catches a cold, it’s important to watch their symptoms and give supportive treatment. Some symptoms such as fever can be remedied with medications like Tylenol drops or syrup, while other symptoms cannot be addressed with medications due to the potential of toxicity.

Adequate hydration is the key to prevent further complications. If your baby’s mucus becomes thick, you can administer saline nasal drops to loosen it up. You can also try suctioning the mucus out with a bulb or nasal aspirator. Breastfeeding is still encouraged to keep your child nourished, hydrated, and provide passive immunity against other infections.

Viral infections will clear up on their own within a week or so. During this time, your baby may become fussier than usual. While this is normal, be vigilant for other signs and symptoms. If your baby is below three months old, a high fever can be especially dangerous. For babies over three months old, watch out for high fever, red eyes, yellow-green eye discharge, or troubled breathing. Seek medical attention as these may indicate a more serious infection.

What can I take for congestion while breastfeeding?

When you have a head cold, sinus congestion and nasal stuffiness can make it hard for you to breathe, let alone handle a fussy child. The spread of cold viruses is possible through inhaling respiratory droplets after sneezing or by getting mucus on your hands and touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. 

If you have active cold symptoms such as a runny nose and congestion, taking medications won’t cure the illness, but managing the symptoms can make things more bearable and reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus.

Most over the counter cold medications are safe for pregnant and lactating women and in turn, breastfed babies. Decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine are deemed to be safe and do not significantly appear in breastmilk. 

Because many cold preparations contain several drugs that treat different symptoms such as fever and pain reducers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, it is essential to check the label before taking any medication. Avoid medications that contain alcohol, as it can appear in breastmilk and affect your baby. Ask your pharmacist for more information about the medicines your plan to purchase and take.

Is Sudafed® safe to take while breastfeeding?

Sudafed is a popular drug used by many Americans to treat cough and cold symptoms. The main active ingredient of Sudafed is pseudoephedrine. 

It’s important to note that there are several Sudafed preparations available on the market, including longer-acting Sudafed with naproxen sodium to treat pain along with colds and Sudafed PE, which substitutes pseudoephedrine for phenylephrine.

All variations of Sudafed are available over the counter and do not typically require a prescription from a doctor (in most states); however, Sudafed preparations that contain pseudoephedrine are stored behind the counter and are required to be dispensed or purchased through a pharmacist working in the pharmacy.

Does Sudafed affect breast milk?

Sudafed acts by constricting enlarged blood vessels. While this effect is ideal for reducing nasal stuffiness and sinus congestion, it can also affect the other blood vessels in the body.

It has been reported that Sudafed and other decongestants can cause “milk to dry up,” however, that is not entirely true. Sudafed does not dry up your milk supply, but because of its vasoconstricting property, there is reduced blood flow to the breast and mammary glands. 

In turn, this can reduce the amount of milk that your breasts will produce. If you fail to stay adequately hydrated while sick, the amount of milk produced will be even less. The effect on breast milk production is temporary, and not all women will experience it while taking Sudafed.

If you have experienced a diminished production or flow of milk while lactating, or want to avoid this issue, a good alternative is to use nasal spray preparations. You will experience the same decongesting effects while limiting the adverse effects in other parts of your body.

Is Mucinex® safe to take while breastfeeding?

For chest colds, a nasal decongestant like Sudafed will not be enough to deal with cough and phlegm. Mucinex is generically known as guaifenesin and is part of a class of drugs called expectorants. Expectorants work by loosening up thick and impacted phlegm in the upper airways in order for you to clear up the mucus upon coughing. 

You can expect this medication to promote coughing, which may be a hindrance to you while doing your daily tasks. There are combination preparations available that contain guaifenesin with cough suppressants to reduce annoying coughs while loosening up phlegm. 

Does guaifenesin affect breast milk?

There is not enough data to suggest that there is a negative effect of guaifenesin on lactation and breast milk. It does not seem to appear in breast milk, so there would be no adverse effects in a breastfed child. Unlike Sudafed, guaifenesin does not promote vasoconstriction, so it will not affect breast milk production or quality.

However, it is important to check the label for other ingredients, especially alcohol. Seek professional medical advice before taking any medication; even it is an over the counter drug.

References

CDC. (2019, August 30). Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis). Retrieved April 7, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/for-patients/common-illnesses/bronchitis.html#anchor_1566410953831

Higuera, V. (2016, February 10). Is It Safe to Take Cold Medicine While Breast-Feeding? Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/cold-medicine-while-breast-feeding

Mayo Clinic. (2019, May 21). Common cold in babies. Retrieved April 7, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold-in-babies/symptoms-causes/syc-20351651

NHS. (2018, February 28). Can I take cough and cold remedies while I’m breastfeeding? Retrieved April 5, 2020, from https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/medicines/can-i-take-cough-and-cold-remedies-while-i-am-breastfeeding/

PDR. (2020). Guaifenesin – Drug Summary. Retrieved April 7, 2020, from https://www.pdr.net/drug-summary/Mucinex-guaifenesin-1275

University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group. (2016, July 26). Pseudoephedrine vs. Phenylephrine: What’s the Difference? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/pseudoephendrine-vs-phenylephrine

University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group. (2018, April 27). Sudafed: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/sudafed

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