The last thing a mother wants to do is harm her baby, but that’s exactly what many women fear they may do if they have to take medications while breastfeeding. Everyone knows that breast milk is nature’s perfect food for babies, and breastfeeding is the ideal way for infants to receive nutrition, but what about when the medications you have to take may be transferred through your milk to your baby?
For some moms, this means making a choice between providing milk for their babies and taking the medicines they need to stay healthy.
Fortunately, for mothers taking an antiepileptic drug, such as carbamazepine, lamotrigine, phenytoin, or valproate, a new study shows further evidence that taking these medications while breastfeeding will not have a negative effect on a baby’s cognitive development over time.
Long term studies performed
According to a study published in the June issue of JAMA Pediatrics, pregnant mothers taking one of the antiepileptic drugs above were enrolled in a study over the course of 5 years, from 1999 to 2004. The babies born to these mothers were monitored over time.
At age six, these children, were assessed with IQ tests and secondary evaluations of verbal and nonverbal cognitive development. Test results were compared between children who were breastfed and those who were not, with children divided into groups based on which specific antiepileptic drug their mothers were prescribed.
No adverse effects in breastfed children
Of the 181 children who took part in the study, for whom breastfeeding data was also available, approximately 43 percent were breastfed by their mothers. The results of the cognitive testing showed no increase in adverse effects among the breastfed tots as compared to their bottle fed counterparts. In fact, there was a slight increase in verbal abilities among the breastfed cohort.
The researchers indicated that the data from the age six study correlates to the results of a similar study performed at age three.
Other factors to consider
One factor for mothers and their doctors to consider is the fact that, while there did not appear to be any adverse effect to breastfed babies as opposed to bottle fed babies whose moms were taking the same medication, babies whose mothers were taking valproate scored 7 to 13 points lower on their IQ tests than mothers who were taking other drugs in the study.
Also, babies born to mothers who were taking a higher dosage of antiepileptic drugs scored lower on their cognitive evaluations than those whose mothers were taking lower doses.
Because an antiepileptic drug may be necessary for an expectant or new mother, she should carefully consult with her doctor about the best option during and after pregnancy, not only for her own health, but for the development of her baby.
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