A common cold is never fun, but getting one while also being pregnant or trying to breastfeed is even worse. While a few natural cold remedies may help mom deal with the symptoms, the following information should help her understand concerns connected with over-the-counter cold medicines and expecting or nursing women.
Concerns about Over-the-Counter Medicines for Pregnant/Breastfeeding Women
For the pregnant mother, the concern with over-the-counter cold remedies is that the medicine will affect the growth and development of the baby, causing birth defects or other problems. The popular book What to Expect When You’re Expecting explains, “When you’re pregnant, every time you take a drug there is the health and well-being of two individuals, one very small and vulnerable, to consider” (Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway, Workman Publishing, 2002).
For the breastfeeding mother, there are two concerns: that the medication will pass to the baby through her milk or that the medication will dry up her milk. Dr. Sears explains, “Most drugs taken by the mother enter her milk, but usually only around 1 percent of the dose appears in the milk” (The Baby Book, Little, Brown and Company, 2003). Thus, while a mother should still exercise caution, there is not the same level of concern as when she was pregnant.
Warning Labels about Pregnancy on Cold Medicines
In some cases, cold medicines contain warnings because it isn’t known how the medicine will affect a developing baby. Research is expensive and time-consuming, so pharmaceutical companies and doctors go by the adage “better safe than sorry.” Dr. Sears notes that “advice for a mother about a medication is sometimes based more on legal considerations than on scientific knowledge.” Murkoff et al add, “If you’ve already taken a few doses of a medication that isn’t recommended for use during pregnancy, don’t worry. But do check with your practitioner if you need extra reassurance.”
Herbal Cold Remedies and Pregnancy/Breastfeeding
Many women think that, if they can’t take over-the-counter cold remedies during pregnancy or breastfeeding, herbal remedies will work. However, herbal remedies should be used with the same care as over-the-counter remedies. Both Dr. Sears and Murkoff et al say that herbal remedies are drugs and should be treated in the same way. Consult a doctor about herbal medicines and, if you are already taking any, let him or her know.
Mothers worried about their milk drying up due to cold medications may be tempted to take herbal teas that claim to increase milk supply. Dr. Sears says these are “harmless and may work, though there are no scientific studies to confirm this.” A better option is simply to breastfeed more, since breast milk works on a supply and demand system; the more baby demands, the more mommy supplies.
When to Seek the Doctor’s Advice
If the cold is really bad, see a doctor for advice—and trust that advice. Murkoff et al advise, “Don’t put off calling the doctor or refuse to take a medication he or she prescribes because you think all drugs are harmful in pregnancy. Many are not.”
A doctor will be able to give advice on which medicines to take, as some medicines are less likely to pass into breast milk than others. The doctor can also explain how to take the medicines (such as just after breastfeeding or before baby has a long nap) because he or she knows when the drug will reach its peak concentration in the mother’s blood and milk.
When is a call to the doctor warranted? Murkoff et al advise, “If your cold is severe enough to interfere with eating or sleeping, if you’re coughing up greenish or yellowish sputum, if you have a cough with chest pain or wheezing, if your sinuses are throbbing . . . or if symptoms last more than a week, call your doctor.”
While having a cold during a pregnancy or while still breastfeeding isn’t a picnic, it needn’t be time to panic, either. Just be careful and, if uncertain or concerned, talk to a doctor.