Is It Safe To Take Phenylephrine While Breastfeeding?

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A nursing mother should be careful of what she consumes, including medicines, since what she eats can reach the baby through breast milk. Certain drugs may not be suitable for babies and have harmful side effects. Many mothers may consider having decongestants such as phenylephrine while breastfeeding. However, phenylephrine may reduce the supply of breastmilk (1). Therefore, you must consult a doctor before taking any medicine during lactation.

Read on to know about the effects of phenylephrine during breastfeeding, its safety regarding the baby, and the necessary precautions that you should take.

What Is Phenylephrine?

Phenylephrine is a type of decongestant. It helps treat nasal congestion or discomfort that occurs due to illnesses such as hay fever, cold, flu, sinusitis, and allergies. The use of phenylephrine doesn’t actually treat the illness. But it helps reduce the inflammation of the nasal blood vessels and thus provides temporary reprieve to the patient.

Phenylephrine is available in many forms such as regular tablets, extended-release pills, liquids, and sprays. It is also added to other medicines (2).

Is It Safe To Take Phenylephrine While Breastfeeding?

Medical professionals have concerns regarding decongestant use while breastfeeding a child (3). Experts don’t advise using phenylephrine while nursing due to the following reasons:

  • Due to the low bioavailability of phenylephrine (oral use), it is considered a low-risk compound. But, oral or intravenous phenylephrine use may reduce the supply of breastmilk. Nasal sprays containing phenylephrine may have a less adverse effect on breast milk (4). If you are a nursing mother with poor production of breast milk, then use drugs containing phenylephrine with caution.
  • If you are a nursing mother, it is better to avoid the use of decongestants in any form. They may cause restlessness and irritability in breastfeeding infants. However, there is insufficient evidence to support this study. Other decongestants such as pseudoephedrine pose greater harm to a nursing infant (5).

Phenylephrine And Breastfeeding – Side Effects:

Some of the common side effects of phenylephrine include (6):

  • Insomnia
  • Upset stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Shaking
  • Lightheadedness

Medicine Use And Breast Milk Fact Sheet:

If you are a nursing mother, you may find the below information useful (7):

  1. All drugs can pass into the breastmilk to some degree. But the extent and possible risks may depend on factors such as the type of medicine, levels of drug compounds present in the mother’s body and the dosage of the medicine during breastfeeding.
  1. Health of the baby is also a factor at risk from drug exposure during breastfeeding. Newborns, preterm babies, and sick infants are at a greater risk from medication exposure through breast milk compared with breastfeeding babies who are a few months older.
  1. Nursing mothers must not avoid medicines, unless it is necessary. For instance, non-treatment may pose more harm to the mother and the newborn than exposure to certain drugs.
  1. Scheduling breastfeeding before the medicine dose can minimize your child’s exposure to harmful medicinal compounds.
  1. Expressing breast milk for your child before your medicinal dose can also lower their risk of drug exposure through breastfeeding.

Treatment Guidelines For Breastfeeding Mothers With Congestion Problems:

If you have a cold or congestion problem, you may want to consult your doctor for safe drug use while breastfeeding as well as about continuing to breastfeed your child through your illness. Here are some other options:

  1. To treat nasal congestion and other cold symptoms, nursing mothers can try safe natural remedies in lieu of medicines containing phenylephrine. Lemon, honey, ginger, regular intake of warm water throughout the day and some herbal teas can provide relief from nasal congestion. However, consult with your doctor before trying any natural remedies while breastfeeding.
  1. Adequate rest and extra nourishment in the form of juices, soups, and warming foods may provide some relief from the congestion problem.
  1. Ask your doctor for alternate drugs for your cold and congestion that you can safely use while breastfeeding. Some nasal decongestants like xylometazoline are considered safer than phenylephrine. If you experience fever or pain along with your cold and nasal congestion, you can take additional medicines for quick relief from your symptoms. For instance, the use of Ibuprofen is considered safe during breastfeeding (8).

If you notice any problems in your child after breastfeeding, immediately inform your doctor about it. Some drugs, even when considered safe, may harm the nursing child.

It is not necessary to discontinue breastfeeding your child when you are taking medicine. Some medicines are perfectly safe to use for nursing mothers. The important thing is to have relevant information at your disposal about the medicine you are using and its potential risks to your nursing child. Therefore, do not hesitate to consult your doctor about any health problem you experience, even if it is a simple nasal congestion.

Medicinal compounds can easily affect the quality and quantity of your breast milk. The risks to your nursing baby may depend on the type of drug used and the state of his health. Therefore, it is extremely important to carefully consider the use of any medicine while breastfeeding your child.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine the same thing?

Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine are both decongestants. However, the brand version of phenylephrine is Sudafed PE, whereas, for pseudoephedrine, it is Sudafed. In terms of efficacy, pseudoephedrine is more effective than phenylephrine in alleviation of symptoms (9) (10).

2. How long does phenylephrine stay in our system?

According to a study, the elimination half-life of phenylephrine was found to be 2.5 hours (11).

While breastfeeding, you must be wary of what you consume as it eventually passes to your baby through the breastmilk. Phenylephrine while breastfeeding is not advisable as it might cause irritability in the infants and affect the milk supply and quality. If you are suffering from congestion problems, instead of using OTC medications, consult the doctor for safer alternatives and take the help of home remedies to overcome the symptoms.


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Jessica Albert

Jessica Albert is a passionate writer who seeks to connect with her readers through wit and charm. Her work aims to invoke curiosity and keep the readers engaged through and through. She has prior experience working with magazines and e-commerce establishments as a content marketer and editor. Being a mother herself, she puts all her knowledge into creating content about... more

Dr. Regina A. Hardin

Dr. Regina Hardin is a board-certified pediatrician with over 20 years of experience in outpatient and inpatient pediatrics. She also has extensive training in diagnosing and treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.    Dr. Hardin completed her undergraduate studies in Biology at Talladega College in Alabama. Her medical school training was completed at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, pediatric... more