Over the past decade multiple studies have shown it is safe for mothers to take most vaccines and drugs while breastfeeding, but little of the data has fed into recommendations. Instead, many mothers have stopped breastfeeding or taking medicines due to fear of adverse events.
Writing in the journal Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has collated all the evidence since its 2001 report on the topic to help physicians and mothers make more informed choices. The authors found it is safe for women to receive almost all vaccines while lactating. In fact, vaccinating a breastfeeding mother against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough and flu can pass on the protection to the baby. Similarly, there is evidence that breastfeeding cuts incidence of fever among infants receiving their shots.
The exceptions are the smallpox and yellow fever vaccines. If a woman receives these vaccines while breastfeeding the infant is at risk of developing vaccinia and encephalitis, respectively. In all other cases, the AAP recommends women continue breastfeeding after vaccination. "The starting point of the report, stressing that the vast majority of drugs are compatible with breastfeeding, is very important in trying to reverse the high level of anxiety and misperception of breastfeeding mothers and many health professionals," Dr. Gideon Koren of The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto told Reuters Health.
Experts hope the clear statement about the safety of most drugs and vaccines for breastfeeding mothers will cause a shift in practitioners' advice. University of Rochester breastfeeding expert Ruth Lawrence told The Wall Street Journal uncertainty among physicians led many to advise patients to switch to formula milk. Often these women could have safely continued to breastfeed.