Conference Coverage

Most dermatologic drugs safe for breastfeeding mothers



– A common reason why a women stops breastfeeding is the use of medication her doctor has claimed is unsafe during lactation. But most drugs have little or no effect on an infant’s well-being or milk supply, explained Jenny Eileen Murase, MD, of Palo Alto (Calif.) Foundation Medical Group.

Dr. Jenny Eileen Murase of Palo Alto (Calif.) Foundation Medical Group and the University of California, San Francisco

Dr. Jenny Eileen Murase

“The bottom line I want you to take away from this [session] is that the vast majority of the medicines you are prescribing as a dermatologist are safe during lactation,” Dr. Murase told attendees at the American Academy of Dermatology summer meeting. “I really want everyone in this room to understand that most of the time, you should not be recommending that a woman is pumping and dumping her milk or stopping breastfeeding because she’s on an agent.”

Dr. Murase, also affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco, provided an overview of drug safety during lactation for major categories of medications that dermatologists prescribe. She recommended that physicians get a copy of Medications and Mother’s Milk by Thomas Hale, PhD, which she considers the best reference for looking up specific drugs. It categorizes drugs as L1 (safest) to L5 (contraindicated), and L2 as “safer,” L3 as “moderately safe,” and L4 as “possibly hazardous.”


Contrary to what many believe, prednisone is not contraindicated in breastfeeding, Dr. Murase said. Instead of advising patients to “pump and dump their milk,” she said, “the only recommendation you need to make is that they wait 4 hours after taking the medicine to breastfeed.” For example, a mother can take prednisone before bed and then wake 4 hours later to nurse. Higher doses, such as more than 40 mg daily over long periods, may have the potential to affect growth and development, but more typical doses don’t pose the same risk.

Topical steroids (except for those that are class 1) also are safe to apply directly to the nipple in breastfeeding women, she noted.

Biologics and immunosuppressants

One of the few medications that are contraindicated are topical pimecrolimus and tacrolimus if applied directly to the nipple, since “oral consumption in the infant could be significant,” Dr. Murase said.

Biologics, on the other hand, are not a concern during lactation. “They have low oral bioavailability because of their large molecular size,” and are broken down in the stomach “in a proteolytic environment,” Dr. Murase explained. The CRADLE study, for example, examined the concentration of certolizumab (Cimzia) in mothers’ mature breast milk and found the highest concentration to be just 0.077 mcg/mL, resulting in an average daily infant dose of less than 0.01 mg/kg per day.

Antihistamines and cosmetic topicals

The major antihistamines – brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine, hydroxyzine, cetirizine, fexofenadine and loratadine – are likewise safe as L1-L3 drugs. It is preferable to prescribe nonsedating antihistamines, opting for loratadine as the first-line choice. But dermatologists should be reassured that no data support concerns about milk supply reduction from antihistamines, Dr. Murase said.

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