Analgesics and breast-feeding: safety considerations

Paediatr Drugs. 2000 May-Jun;2(3):223-38. doi: 10.2165/00128072-200002030-00006.


The issue of prescription of analgesics during lactation is clinically important but also complex. Most of the information available is based on single dose or short term studies, and for many drugs only a single or a few case reports have been published. As great methodological problems exist in the assessment of possible adverse drug reactions in neonates and infants, there is limited knowledge about the practical impact of the, often very low, concentrations found. Nevertheless, some recommendations can be made. Breast-feeding during maternal treatment with paracetamol (acetaminophen) should be regarded as being safe. Short term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs seems to be compatible with breast-feeding. For long term treatment, short-acting agents without active metabolites, such as ibuprofen, should possibly be preferred. The use of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) in single doses should not pose any significant risks to the suckling infant. Use of codeine is probably compatible with breast-feeding, although the effects of long term exposure have not been fully elucidated. For propoxyphene, it seems unlikely that the suckling infant will ingest amounts that will cause any detrimental effects during short term treatment. However, it cannot be excluded that significant amounts of the metabolite norpropoxyphene may arise in the suckling infant during long term exposure. Treatment of the mother with single doses of morphine or pethidine (meperidine) is not expected to cause any risk for the suckling infant. Repeated administration of pethidine, in contrast to morphine, affects the suckling infant negatively. Thus, morphine should be preferred in lactating mothers. However, during long term treatment with morphine, the importance of uninterrupted breast-feeding should be assessed on an individual basis against the potential risk of adverse drug effects in the infant. If it is decided to continue breast-feeding the infant should be observed for possible adverse effects. In general, if treatment of a lactating mother with an analgesic drug is considered necessary, the lowest effective maternal dose should be given. Moreover, infant exposure can be further reduced if breast-feeding is avoided at times of peak drug concentration in milk. As breast milk has considerable nutritional, immunological and other advantages over formula milk, the possible risks to the infant should always, and on an individual basis, be carefully weighed against the benefits of continuing breast-feeding.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics / adverse effects*
  • Analgesics / pharmacokinetics*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacokinetics
  • Breast Feeding / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Milk, Human / metabolism*


  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid