There have been some fantastic conversations taking place on the MatExp Facebook group, with lots of ACTION threads being posted to generate discussion. The aim of these discussions is to identify ways that we can ACT to improve maternity experiences. Big, long-term actions that might require system change or a change in culture. And small, immediate actions, that professionals and individuals can take today to improve the maternity experience of those around them.
I have great pleasure in sharing with you a guest blog from Infant Feeding Coordinator Luisa Lyons, a midwife and IBCLC at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Luisa led a discussion on the Facebook group about breastfeeding and medications, and this is here write up of that topic. Take it away Luisa!
Can you breastfeed after having a tattoo? Can you breastfeed if you are on Prozac? Can you breastfeed if you take antihistamines?
As part of #FlamingJune, the #MatExp group discussed the topic of breastfeeding and medication. An interesting discussion took place and some actions were generated to help move forwards on this important topic to improve maternity experiences.
Breastfeeding mothers are frequently misinformed by health professionals with regard to what they can and cannot take, and at what dose whilst breastfeeding. Many mothers are told to stop breastfeeding unnecessarily, to “pump and dump” when not necessary or denied medications that could benefit them.
Contributors to the discussion described being denied medications for mental health conditions, or being prescribed medications later found to be harmful, being told to stop breastfeeding in order to be able to take anti-depressants or other medications to treat mental health issues.
The hurt and frustration women feel at discovering the advice was wrong is considerable and stays with them.
The increased risks to mothers from not taking medication which is indicated, and the risks of not breastfeeding to maternal and infant health mean that everyone involved in supporting new mothers needs to be aware of breastfeeding and medication.
Themes that were raised were assumptions that babies do not “need breastmilk” over six months and therefore stopping breastfeeding in order to take medication was then indicated. We know this is incorrect and that as long as a mother and baby dyad continue to breastfeed, the longer the beneficial health effects last, in a dose response manner. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months and then continuing up to 2 years of age and beyond.
Another theme was women with chronic pain conditions finding difficulty in accessing accurate information. In addition there were reported inaccuracies about dental extractions/sedation. Another breastfeeding mother got in touch to say she had suffered from hayfever for months before discovering she could have been taking the antihistamine Loratidine with no concerns.
NICE guideline Maternal and Child Nutrition (NICE, 2008) describes the standard of care that should be implemented with regard to prescribing for breastfeeding mothers. In standard 15 it states:
- Ensure health professionals and pharmacists who prescribe or dispense drugs to a breastfeeding mother consult supplementary sources (for example, the Drugs and Lactation Database [LactMed] or seek guidance from the UK Drugs in Lactation Advisory Service.
- Health professionals should discuss the benefits and risks associated with the prescribed medication and encourage the mother to continue breastfeeding, if reasonable to do so. In most cases, it should be possible to identify a suitable medication which is safe to take during breastfeeding by analysing pharmokinetic and study data. Appendix 5 of the ‘British national formulary’ should only be used as a guide as it does not contain quantitative data on which to base individual decisions.
- Health professionals should recognise that there may be adverse health consequences for both mother and baby if the mother does not breastfeed. They should also recognise that it may not be easy for the mother to stop breastfeeding abruptly – and that it is difficult to reverse.
Dr Wendy Jones, pharmacist and breastfeeding tutor with the Breastfeeding Network and Independent Prescriber, has been instrumental in raising awareness of the issue in the UK and supporting thousands of women to breastfeed whilst on medication. She has so far written many factsheets on breastfeeding whilst taking medications. They can be found here https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/detailed-information/drugs-in-breastmilk/drugs-factsheets/
So how can we ACT to improve experiences for mothers and babies?
- Communicate to our colleagues and friends to signpost them to correct advice (see links above)
- Publicise the Breastfeeding Network (BfN) Drugs in breastmilk helpline- 0844 412 4665
- See https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/detailed-information/drugs-in-breastmilk/
- Email queries to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Feedback and if necessary make formal complaints about misinformation to the Trust via the complaints department PALS, a useful website is https://www.patientopinion.org.uk/ to give online feedback which is publicly visible
- If you are an HCP, encourage your unit to “Save the Drugs in Breastmilk Helpline” by subscribing to the information service. Become a “friend” of the Drugs In Breastmilk Helpline and make a donation to help support and sustain this important service. Individual membership is £25 or organisations are £150. For this they receive hard copies of the DIBM factsheets and an electronic newsletter
- Signpost clinicians to http://www.ukmi.nhs.uk/activities/specialistServices/default.asp?pageRef=2
- Encourage prescribers in general practice, dentistry, obstetrics and paediatrics to be aware of the LactMed services listed above. A small but effective action is for all prescribers in these fields is to use the free LactMed app . This has been well received by many doctors in my hospital who find it useful for out of hours information at the touch of a button.
- Empower women to question advice where they are told to stop breastfeeding in order to take a medication
- Encourage evidence based information use to enable mothers to make informed decisions of risks and benefits where the evidence is not forthcoming on a particular drug
- Devise e-learning packages for staff to learn more about infant feeding and include medications and breastfeeding in this training
- Maternity units to forge closer links with public health departments to encourage joined up working
- Make a poster for antenatal clinics asking women who are pregnant and on medications if they would like more information on their medications and future breastfeeding
- Make the safety of Drugs in Breastmilk a less scary topic for HCP’s so that support can come upstream from the firefighting that Dr Wendy Jones and her colleagues have to do when mothers receive incorrect advice. The current system of women self-seeking information, largely online, means that less literate women are at a disadvantage
Infant Feeding Co-ordinator
Midwife and Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)
Maternity Services, West Block Level 3, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital