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Sertraline and breastfeeding

Especially over the past year of the pandemic many mothers are asking about the compatibility of sertraline during breastfeeding. It has been a hard time for everyone with the incidence of anxiety and depression continuing to rise. As access to IAPT and IESO is more difficult the prescription of medication is inevitable.

Sertraline is the first choice medication for breastfeeding mothers as virtually none gets into milk and that we have a high level of experience with it over many years.

Unfortunately many doctors are, in my experience, still recommending that mothers should stop breastfeeding in order to take it. This may be that they think life would be easier if someone else could help with care of the baby or that the mother may get more sleep. Sadly, this doesnt always happen and the loss of oxytocin may also lower mood further.

There is often an assumption that pressure to breastfeed can lead to depression but in my experience pressure to stop breastfeeding in order to take medication may increase depression and may also stop mothers accessing professional help to avoid having that discussion.

This link to the RCGP perinatal mental health toolkit may be useful for professionals and parents


This factsheet contains information from my book Breastfeeding and Medication. Please message me for references used or with any questions.

Setraline and breastfeeding factsheet

Breastfeeding and chronic medical conditions contains chapters on anxiety and depression



Breastfeeding and Climate Change

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at a conference about breastfeeding and climate change. I have uplaoded the powepoint presentation here and am in the midst of writing a paper on the topic. As COP 27 ends I’m sad that the impact of the formula feeding industry and the waste has not been discussed ( to my knowledge) whilst breastfeeding makes so much difference both to health and the economy as well.


More brilliant information here from The Yorkshire and Humber National Infant Feeding Network (NIFN) Breastfeeding and Climate Change Sub Group



Head lice and breastfeeding

It’s that time of year again- headlice are found in the heads of primary school children ( and older ones!) spreading to the wider family. Breastfeeding mothers can treat their children and themselves and continue to feed as normal.

A pdf of this information is available if you want it.


Head lice ( the live insects) and nits (head lice eggs) are commonly seen in school age children, particularly toddlers who like to be close to their friends. Unfortunately for parents, grandparents and the wider family, they are also easily spread by head to head contact, which we all enjoy with children!

Head lice are not a sign of poor hygiene and they actually prefer clean and shiny hair. Symptoms usually start with scratching the head and sometimes it feels like something is moving. The easiest place to find live head lice is behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.

Wet combing

It is possible to remove head lice without chemicals, but it takes time and patience. Wash the hair and leave in conditioner. Comb the hair with a fine comb thoroughly. It can take up to 30 minutes to do this so an ideal time is when the child is engrossed in a favourite TV programme. It is necessary to repeat this at least every 4 days ( https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/head-lice-and-nits/).

The charity Community Hygiene Concern has a video about wet combing for head lice. https://www.chc.org/for-parents-2/

Medicated lotions and sprays

These are available from pharmacies and supermarkets so there is no need to consult a doctor or practice nurse. Medicated products to treat head lice can be used by breastfeeding mothers to treat themselves and their children. If there are lots of heads to treat it can be sensible to have an open window as the smell can be strong. There is no evidence of absorption of the products into breastmilk through the skin, hair or scalp.

Shampoos are diluted too much in use to be effective. A contact time of 8–12 hours or overnight treatment is recommended for lotions and liquids. A 2 hour treatment is not sufficient to kill eggs.

In general, a course of treatment for head lice should be 2 applications of product 7 days apart to kill lice emerging from any eggs that survive the first application. All affected household members should be treated simultaneously. All friends and school should be advised so that all contacts can be treated to prevent reinfection. Regular wet combing to check hair of primary school age children is good practice (with the voice of experience as a mum and grandma!)

Products include ( not exclusive):

Dimeticone: Hedrin™, Lyclear Lotion™

Osmolone: Lyclear ™

Isopropyl Myristate: Vamousse

Permethrin: Lyclear cream rinse™

Cyclomethicone,Isopropyl Myristate: Full Marks™

Malathion: Derbac M™


•Ito S, Blajchman A, Stephenson M, Eliopoulos C, Koren G.Prospective follow-up of adverse reactions in breastfed infants exposed to maternal medication. Am. J Obstet Gynecol. 1993; 168:1393-9.

•Jones W Breastfeeding and Medication Routledge 2018

•Porto I. Antiparasitic drugs and lactation: focus on anthelmintics, scabicides, and pediculicides. J Hum Lact. 2003; 19:421-5.


Asthma and Breastfeeding CPD for Practice Nurses

I was recently asked to present a training session for practice nurses on treating asthma in the breastfeeding mother. Sharing here a version as a CPD opportunity. Any questions please email me wendy@breastfeeding-and-medication.co.uk


Topirimate in pregnancy and breastfeeding

In July 2022 MHRA issued new guidance on the use of topirimate in women of childbearing age both in the treatment of epilepsy and prevention of migraine


The new safety review was triggered by a large observational study ( Bjørk M et al 2022) reporting that prenatal exposure to topiramate is associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disability, and neurodevelopmental disorders (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/2793003

Use of Topiramate

  • to prevent migraine headaches in adults after consideration of possible alternative treatment options
  • alone to treat seizures in adults and children aged older than 6 years
  • with other medicines to treat seizures in adults and children aged 2 years and older

Advice if a pregnancy is planned

If you are taking topiramate for epilepsy and are planning a pregnancy, urgently talk to your doctor for a specialist review – there are other epilepsy medicines that are not associated with an increased risk of birth defects in pregnancy

If you are taking topiramate for migraine and planning a pregnancy, talk to your prescriber about alternative treatments that can be used in pregnancy as soon as possible

NB topiramate can reduce the effectiveness of hormonal contraception in preventing unplanned pregnancy – talk to a healthcare professional about the best contraception for you while you are taking topiramate

MHRA review 2021

Following a comprehensive national review by the Commission on Human Medicines into the safety of antiepileptic drugs in pregnancy, including topiramate, in January 2021 a new safety advice in Drug Safety Update with patient advice, and a Public Assessment Report were published.

The review showed topiramate exposure in-utero to be associated with an increased risk of congenital malformations (approximately 4 or 5 cases per 100 babies, compared with 2 or 3 in the general population). Topiramate was also shown to be associated with an increased risk of the baby being born of low birth weight and small for gestational age (fetal growth restriction).

At the time of the 2021 review, some data had raised concerns that topiramate use during pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder and poorer developmental outcomes. However, the numbers in the available studies were limited and further data were needed to reach firm conclusions.

Details on the findings of the Bjørk study

The study by Bjørk and colleagues is a large, well-conducted study using established data sources from 5 Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden). It reports that children whose mothers use topiramate or valproate during pregnancy are at an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, and a composite outcome of any neurodevelopmental disorder. These risks are known for valproate (see section on valproate below).

Data from around 4.5 million mother-child pairs were examined and this included 24,825 children (0.6%) who were prenatally exposed to antiepileptic drugs. Of these, 16,170 were born to mothers who had epilepsy. These data were analysed to estimate the risk of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability after exposure to the 10 most frequently used antiepileptic drugs when used as monotherapy (one medicine) and the 5 most frequently used antiepileptic drugs when used as duotherapy (two medicines at the same time).

In unexposed children of mothers with epilepsy, the 8-year cumulative incidence of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability were 1.5% and 0.8% respectively compared with 4.3% and 3.1% in children of mothers with epilepsy exposed to topiramate. The adjusted hazard ratios for autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability were 2.8 (95% CI 1.4 to 5.7) and 3.5 (95% CI 1.4 to 8.6).

A range of sensitivity analyses were conducted that broadly showed consistent and statistically significant effect estimates of a greater than 2-fold increase in risk of neurodevelopmental disorders across most of the analyses. The data also showed a dose-dependent effect for topiramate.

Topiramate and current pregnancy prevention requirements

  • Before the initiation of topiramate in a woman of childbearing potential, pregnancy testing should be performed, and the patient should be fully informed of the risks if used during pregnancy.
  • For epilepsy, alternative therapeutic options should be considered for women of childbearing potential. If topiramate is used, a highly effective contraception is strongly recommended, and the discussion with the patient should include information on both the risks associated with taking topiramate and of uncontrolled epilepsy during pregnancy.
  • For migraine prophylaxis, topiramate is contraindicated in pregnancy and in women of childbearing potential if not using a highly effective method of contraception. As such, topiramate should not be prescribed for migraine prevention in a patient who is pregnant

Topirimate and Breastfeeding

  • Maternal doses of topiramate up to 200 mg daily produce relatively low levels in infant serum. Sedation and diarrhoea have been reported occasionally in breastfed infants, but most infants tolerate the drug in milk well. In a few infants, no long-term adverse effects on growth and development have been seen. Monitor the infant for diarrhoea, drowsiness, irritability, adequate weight gain, and developmental milestones, especially in younger, exclusively breastfed infants and when using combinations of anticonvulsant or psychotropic drugs. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501259/
  • Öhman et al 2002. observed five babies at delivery and followed three of them through lactation. Two to three weeks after delivery two of the breastfed infants had detectable but unquantifiable levels of topiramate and one had an undetectable concentration; m/p ratios of around 0.86 were determined throughout the study period and no adverse events noted. Observe for sedation, poor feeding and diarrhoea. https://breastfeeding-and-medication.co.uk/fact-sheet/anti-epilepsy-medication-and-breastfeeding
  • Topirimate is moderately excreted into breast milk with the infant receiving just over 10% of the maternal weight-adjusted dose. Neither clinical nor psychomotor developmental effects have been observed in infants whose mothers were treated. Only a possibly related case of gastroenteritis that resolved after discontinuation of mother’s medication. Plasma levels of infants whose mothers were treated with topiramate have shown to be undetectable or pretty below (<1 mg / L) the recommended therapeutic level (5-20 mg / L). Check up the occurrence of diarrhoea, irritability and lethargy in infants ( https://www.e-lactancia.org/breastfeeding/topiramate/product/)

Adequate precautions against pregnancy must be used even when breastfeeding exclusively.

Buscopan (Hyoscine) and Breastfeeding

Buscopan is compatible with breastfeeding

Hyoscine which is most frequent referred to by mothers under the trade name of Buscopan ™. It is used to resolve smooth muscle spasm often in irritable bowel syndrome. It can also help bladder 0cramps and period pain.

The BNF states that the amount in breastmilk is too small to be harmful.

It’s unusual to have any side effects, but some people get a dry mouth, constipation and blurred vision.

See also factsheet on irritable bowel syndrome and breastfeeding https://breastfeeding-and-medication.co.uk/fact-sheet/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs-and-breastfeeding


Plasma protein binding 50%, oral bio-availability 81%, licensed in children.

Further information


Rescue Remedy and Breastfeeding

Many people like to take Rescue Remedy when they are anxious or more frequently, I have found, when taking a driving test or exam. There are no research studies that I am aware of. However, the Rescue Remedy site is quite reassuring.

“The Rescue Remedy® formula contains a carefully selected blend of five flower remedies and is prepared according to natural and traditional methods at the Bach Centre in Oxfordshire. While Rescue Remedy® should be safe to take even while pregnant or breastfeeding  you should always talk to your doctor before taking any Rescue® product, especially if you are currently taking any medication.”



Omeprazole and Breastfeeding

Omeprazole is compatible with breastfeeding

Omeprazole (Losec™) is a proton pump inhibitor used to block acid secretion for a variety of reasons including:

  • Reflux
  • Oesaphagitis
  • To protect the stomach against drugs like ibuprofen or prednisolone

The capsules contain gastro-resistant granules, the tablets are also gastro-resistant so that very little of the drug can pass into breastmilk. We also give omeprazole solution to babies with symptoms of reflux. Omeprazole is extremely acid labile with a half-life of 10 minutes at pH values below 4.[ Pilbrant A, Cederberg C. Development of an oral formulation of omeprazole. Scand J Gastroenterol Suppl 1985; 108:113-120.]

Virtually all omeprazole ingested via milk would probably be destroyed in the stomach of the infant prior to absorption.

Relative infant dose 1.1%, Plasma protein bound 95%, oral bioavailability 30-40% (Hale Medications and Mother’s Milk)

Narcolepsy and Breastfeeding

This is a topic on which I confess I had no knowledge. I havent had many queries over the years but most were focussed on asking about modenafil. So a question this week prompted me to do some more research and add it into a factsheet. Hope it helps


Factsheet narcolepsy and breastfeeding



Fexofenadine and Breastfeeding

Fexofenadine can be used as an antihistamine during lactation if other antihistamines e.g., cetirizine and loratadine are not effective although studies are limited

Fexofenadine is being asked about frequently this year when symptoms of hayfever seem worse than usual. It can be bought over the counter (but the leaflet will say don’t take if breastfeeding and the pharmacist may suggest that it isn’t compatible with breastfeeding). I hope this information sheet helps you decide what is right for you and your baby.


Factsheet Fexofenadine and Breastfeeding


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