When a Nursing Mother Gets Sick

If you want to use a nasal spray to relieve sinus congestion, look for preparations that contain sodium chloride or phenylephrine (such as Afrin Saline Mist, Nasal Moist, and St. Joseph Nasal Decongestant, and Neo-Synephrine Spray and Drops) rather than those which contain oxymetazoline, naphazoline, or phenylephrine (such as Afrin, Dristan, Privine, or Vicks Sinex Nasal Spray or Inhaler).

Always avoid long acting forms and multiple ingredients, and watch for drowsiness in the baby or a decrease in your milk supply. Drink extra fluids, because drugs that dry up secretions in other parts of your body may decrease your milk supply as well. Your supply will build up when you feel better.

For coughs: Avoid products with an alcohol content of over 20%. Benylin, Robitussin (DM, PE, and Maximum Strength), Triaminic Expectorant, and Vicks 44E and Vicks 44 Dry Hacking Cough are not harmful, but watch for infant drowsiness. Avoid multi-action formulas such as Tylenol Multi-Symptom Cough medication and Vicks Nyquil Liquid or Liquicaps.

For constipation: Use formulations containing pysillium, docusate, methylcellulose,or magnesium hydroxide (Citrucel, Colace, Fiberall, Fibvercom, Maalox Daily Fiber, Metamucil, Mylanta, Philips' Milk of Magnesia, Serutan, or Surfak. Avoid those containing mineral oil, phenolphthalein, bisacodyl, and castor oil (Correctol, Dulcolax, Ex-Lax, Feen- a-Mint, Peri-Colace, and Senokot. These may cause stomach upset in the baby.

• Most sleep preparations, including Nytol QuickCaps, Sleep-Eze, Sominex Formala 2, and Unisom Maxium Sleepgels, are ok. Avoid those which contain doxylamine, (such as Nytol Maximum Strength, and Unisom), and always watch for excessive sleepiness in your baby.

For nausea and vomiting: Benadryl, Emetrol, and Dramamine aren't harmful. Again, watch for drowsiness, and try to take the dose after you nurse. Avoid compounds containing meclizine or cyclizine, such as Bonine, Dramamine II, and Marezine.

• Most weight control products such as Acutrim and Dexatrim contain phenylpropanolamine and large amounts of caffeine. It is best to avoid them.

• All the major hemorrhoidal preparations, such as Americaine, Anusol, Nupercainal, Preparation H, and Tucks gel or pads are safe to use while breastfeeding.

Let's discuss specific illnesses now. First, the scariest one of all -- cancer. Cancer causes malignant blood cells to multiply rapidly and out of control. If detected early and treated promptly, many types of cancer can be cured completely. When cancer is suspected, there are several types of diagnostic tests that may be used; some affect breastfeeding more than others.

Remember to do your monthly breast exam.

Early detection is the key as most women find lumps themselves.

For more information on breast self-exam and breast health go to http://www.ama-assn.org/insight/h_focus/wom_hlth/brc.htm#p05

• X-rays: human milk is not affected by diagnostic x-rays, and you can safely nurse immediately afterward.

• MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a non-invasive technique that will not affect your milk. However, as part of the procedure, you will be injected with a dye that may or may not be harmful, so if you are concerned, you can discard the milk pumped after the procedure. Consult a knowledgeable health care provider for specifics on how long to wait before resuming breastfeeding.

• Ultrasound and CAT scans: these are non-invasive procedures that should not affect your milk or interfere with breastfeeding.

• Mammograms can be performed while you are nursing, without affecting your milk. Because the breast tissue is denser during lactation, it may be more difficult to read the results. Be sure to empty your breast by pumping or nursing before the procedure.

• Fine-needle aspiration cytologic study: If you have a breast lump, this is a simple, nearly painless out-patient procedure performed in your doctor's office to determine the nature of a solid mass. There should be no reason to interrupt breastfeeding.