Some types of medication are not suitable to take while breastfeeding, so women may wonder whether or not taking pain relievers is risky. In most cases, ibuprofen is safe to use in the short term while breastfeeding.
Ibuprofen while breastfeeding
A woman can take ibuprofen in moderate doses while breastfeeding.
Ibuprofen is safe in moderate doses during breastfeeding as only minimal quantities of the drug get into breast milk.
A 2014 study looking at ibuprofen concentrations in breast milk found that infants received less than 0.38 percent of the weight-adjusted women's doses of this medication.
Even when breastfeeding women take high doses of ibuprofen through rapid delivery mechanisms, such as suppositories, babies have exposure to less than 1 percent of the dose.
Doctors routinely advise women to avoid certain drugs during pregnancy because they may get into the bloodstream, travel through the placenta, and affect the baby.
At least one study has found that taking ibuprofen early on in pregnancy increases the likelihood of pregnancy loss. Due to these risks, many doctors recommend that women avoid taking ibuprofen when they are pregnant.
This can be confusing as people may believe that a drug that is unsafe during pregnancy is also risky when breastfeeding. However, drugs that affect a developing fetus via the placenta pass through breast milk very differently.
What about other pain relievers?
Ibuprofen is one of the safest options for breastfeeding women. However, ibuprofen does not work for everyone, and some women may have other reasons, such as an allergy, to avoid this drug.
According to a 2014 review, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is also safe to take while breastfeeding.
The review also states that low doses of aspirin are safe, but it is worth noting that the use of aspirin by breastfeeding women remains controversial.
Aspirin transfers into breast milk at much higher concentrations of up to 10 percent. As aspirin can cause Reye's syndrome in children and babies, some researchers worry that even minimal exposure to aspirin in breast milk is a risk. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid aspirin intake in pregnancy or breastfeeding. People should never give aspirin to children.
Other drugs may be safe depending on the dose and other factors. Breastfeeding women should speak to a doctor about the relative risks and benefits of any medication, including ibuprofen.
Natural pain relief
Massages can relieve muscle pain.
There is no medical reason for breastfeeding women to avoid using ibuprofen. In fact, the discomfort of being in pain can make it difficult for them to bond with the baby.
However, those who prefer trialing natural remedies initially can try one or more of the following:
- having massages for muscle pain if there is no risk of blood clots
- varying the body position when breastfeeding to avoid muscle strains
- using a sitz bath for pain related to a perineal tear or episiotomy
- applying warm or cool compresses to sore breasts, painful nipples, and a tender bottom
- standing under a warm shower
Self-care is also helpful for minimizing pain, especially for people who are sleep-deprived and feeding a newborn.
Breastfeeding women should drink plenty of water as dehydration can make muscle pain worse and decrease milk production. It can also help to sleep whenever possible, even if this involves asking for help from a partner or family member. Sleep is often lacking for the parents in that first week, and this can compound the experience of discomfort.
If medication and natural remedies do not help with pain, a doctor should be able to offer advice on other options.
Research on the safety of ibuprofen during breastfeeding typically considers standard rather than large doses. It is essential that breastfeeding women take only the recommended dosage or the lowest amount that provides relief. If the pain is intense enough to warrant larger doses, it is best to speak to a doctor.
Over-the-counter (OTC) ibuprofen is usually available in 200- to 400-milligram (mg) tablets. It is vital to read the label and not exceed the recommended daily maximum dosage.
People should avoid long-acting or slow-release medications while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Risks and considerations
A review of studies found no documented risks associated with exposing a baby to small quantities of ibuprofen through breast milk.
A small study found that the amount of ibuprofen in breast milk decreased both over time and alongside the natural decrease in protein. Therefore, the longer a woman breastfeeds, the less ibuprofen may be present in her breast milk.
Women who are still worried about the baby's exposure to ibuprofen may wish to avoid taking it in the immediate postpartum period. However, even during this period, there is no evidence that occasional use of ibuprofen can harm the baby.
Many breastfeeding women receive conflicting advice about medication from friends, family, other parents, and even doctors. It is easy to feel overwhelmed or to decide that the safest strategy is to avoid all medication.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend breastfeeding for at least a year and do not specify an upper time limit. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend breastfeeding for at least 2 years.
Breastfeeding women do not need to avoid taking pain relievers while they are breastfeeding. There is no reason to avoid occasional use of safe medications, such as ibuprofen, especially when these drugs provide relief from aches and pains and can help make the postpartum period less challenging.