A mother and child

When to Avoid Breastfeeding

With the benefits of breastfeeding being broadcast far and wide, some women feel shamed into doing it. However, the advent of healthy formula being means that breastfeeding is no longer a necessity. And not only is it a very personal choice, sometimes it isn’t best from a health perspective. While the act of breastfeeding can induce bonding and the release of certain hormones that can reduce anxiety, if nursing itself is a stressful or painful experience for either party, chances are that’s going to negate any productivity. Additionally, some medications and treatments can make breastfeeding dangerous, as can certain illnesses of either mother or infant. 

Medications and Treatments

While not every medication is expressed through the breast milk to such an extent that the infant will actually receive any of the effects, there are some that can be dangerous to babies. Some medications known to be likely problematic include: 

  • Medications for anxiety, depression, or mood stabilizing
  • Estrogen-based birth control
  • Migraine medications
  • Antiretrovirals
  • Sleep aids

The treatment for some illnesses and cancers can also make breastfeeding a bad idea. Mothers undergoing chemotherapy or radiation are also highly advised against breastfeeding. Illegal drugs can also be very harmful to infants when consumed through breast milk. 

Illnesses in Mothers

Most common bacterial and viral infections do not pose a threat to an infant via breast milk. However, since even the lightest cold or flu in an adult can be very serious for a baby, it’s usually a good idea to pump the milk and have someone who is well provide it to the child. Alternatively, there are some illnesses that can make breastfeeding unsafe. Mothers with the human immunodeficiency virus, (HIV) the virus that causes AIDS, human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or II, or active tuberculosis should not breast feed.

Additionally, while some chronic illness do not pose a threat for babies, breastfeeding may be difficult for an unwell mother. Women with diabetes, thyroid disorders, some bowel diseases, or those who are dangerously underweight must be extremely careful to provide themselves with enough nutrition. 

Rarely, anatomical abnormalities may make breastfeeding difficult or impossible; women who have undergone breast augmentations may have significant difficulty in this regard as well. 

Illnesses in Babies

Some conditions of an infant can make breastfeeding a bad choice as well. Galactosemia is a metabolic disorder in which the infant cannot process sugar galactose and requires a special diet that cannot be derived from breast milk. 

Last Updated: October 29, 2015