Purpose of review: In contrast to the disease remission enjoyed by a majority of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients during pregnancy, the immediate postpartum period is generally characterized by flare. Managing symptoms during this time is challenging because the potential transfer of medication into the breast milk of nursing mothers may limit which antirheumatic drugs can be safely used. The benefits of breastfeeding are significant, however, so an understanding of how to adjust medications to permit lactation and nursing is important for rheumatologists.
Recent findings: Although nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in general are passed into milk in low doses, shorter acting NSAIDs are preferred, with caution for premature infants. Prednisone can be taken by nursing mothers, although when used at doses higher than 20 mg/day an interval of 4 h after dosing and prior to breastfeeding is recommended. Hydroxychloroquine and sulfasalazine are compatible with nursing. Cyclosporine is generally allowed in lactating women, although a single infant was reported to develop therapeutic drug levels. Azathioprine (AZA) and tissue necrosis factor-α-inhibitors have little to no transfer into breast milk, with negligible levels measured in infant sera, and thus may be considered for use in lactating mothers. Methotrexate and leflunomide should not be used. Other biological RA medications have not been evaluated, and are, therefore, best avoided by breastfeeding patients.
Summary: Many but not all RA medications may be used during lactation with low risk to the nursing infant; this review summarizes the available data for commonly used medications in order to help guide therapy during the postpartum period.