During a common cold episode, decongestants are used as a reliable approach to clear congestion. But, is taking a decongestant while breastfeeding safe? Are there any safe decongestants to take while breastfeeding? To get answers for these queries, read on.
A mild common cold may become a nightmare for breastfeeding mothers. They can no longer pop over-the-counter cold medications for getting relief from the irritable cold symptoms. After all, it is not only personal safety that has to be considered while advocating cold medicine. The treatment drug should be such that it does no harm to the baby. Hence, the safety of taking analgesics, expectorant and decongestant while nursing a baby should be considered prior to using any of these medications.
Is it Safe to Use Decongestants While Breastfeeding?
As the name reveals, a decongestant is formulated to loosen mucus in the nasal passages, paranasal sinuses and chest. It is a commonly administered drug for treating common cold. What it does is, constrict blood vessels in the congested area and reduce swelling. Together, these bring about clearance of the respiratory passages, and make breathing easier for patients. Based on the usage methods, there are two main types of decongestants – nasal sprays and oral drugs. The former is strictly topical and provides temporary relief, while latter includes swallowing liquids and pills.
When it comes to the use of decongestants by a nursing mom, the drug safety is doubtful. While only 5-10 percent of nasal sprays is absorbed in the mother’s bloodstream, the absorption rate is higher for an oral decongestant. A portion of the medication is passed on the baby via mother’s milk. This may cause sleep problem, irritability and at other times, tachycardia in a breastfeeding baby. Hence, a lactating mother who is currently on cold medicine should keep a close eye on the baby for allergy and unusual symptoms. On top of the adverse reactions, some of the decongestant drugs reduce milk production.
Safe Decongestants for Lactating Mothers
As compared to the oral formulations, using topical or nasal decongestants is a safer approach for breastfeeding mothers. The best alternative is nasal spray that contains saline alone. Also, using nasal spray that contains oxymetazoline hydrochloride (Afrin) according to suggested guidelines causes no side effects to the mother and baby. This over-the-counter drug is effectual to clear stuffy nose. Regarding oral drugs, regular doses of pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine (Entex PSE and Sudafed) are effective and probably safe for lactating mothers. However, some report temporary reduction in milk supply by more than 20 percent after starting pseudoephedrine medication.
As for working of combination drugs that contain antihistamines and decongestants, the antihistamines reduce allergy symptoms and decongestants work for clearing congestion. Breastfeeding mothers should strictly avoid these combination drugs (e.g., Dimetapp, Contac). They are associated with lowering of mean milk volume, troubled breathing, irregular heartbeat and many other side effects. With all types of oral decongestants, there is always a risk of elevated blood pressure, especially for those who have hypertension and underlying cardiac problems.
In a nutshell, use of decongestants and other nonprescription cold medications while breastfeeding should be avoided as far as possible. Instead try the alternative therapies for addressing respiratory congestion and associated cold symptoms. Effectual remedies for clearing upper respiratory tract are inhaling steam and following neti pot rinse two to three times daily. Using humidifier is also a good way to breathe easily during a cold episode. Last but not the least, sip warm drinks and water in ample amounts. This will dilute excess mucus buildup and stimulate quick draining.
For serious or unavoidable cases of nasal congestion, consult a trusted doctor and follow his/her prescriptions. Keep in mind that the safety of taking a decongestant while lactating largely depends upon the intake dose. At any point of time, breastfeeding mothers should not overuse nasal decongestants. Though they are relatively safe, repeated use of the same increases the risk for rebound congestion. So, usage of this safe decongestants while breastfeeding is also restricted to 2 days (if possible), and 4 days at the most.