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Pharmacy and Medication


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Pepto-Bismol helps relieve several digestive issues that pregnant and breastfeeding women often experience, including gas, heartburn, and nausea.

Many women may be aware that they should avoid taking Pepto-Bismol during pregnancy, but what about while breastfeeding?

It is unclear whether Pepto-Bismol is safe to take while breastfeeding, but most experts recommend avoiding it. Read on to learn more.

Is it safe?

Pink medicine pepto-bismol in measuring cup
Breastfeeding women should use alternatives to Pepto-Bismol.

Pepto-Bismol’s active ingredient is bismuth subsalicylate, a type of salicylate. Aspirin’s other name is acetylsalicylic acid, which is another type of salicylate.

Researchers are unsure if bismuth subsalicylate passes into a woman’s breast milk. Other types of salicylates, including aspirin, do enter the breast milk, and they can have harmful effects on a developing baby.

Some research into aspirin use reports that serum levels of salicylates in breastfeeding infants can reach approximately 40 percent of the dose taken by the woman.

As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that doctors use caution when recommending medications containing salicylates to breastfeeding women.

The National Institutes of Health in the United States suggest that breastfeeding women use alternatives to Pepto-Bismol because the active ingredient may pass into breast milk.

Risks

The risks of using Pepto-Bismol while breastfeeding are not well-documented. However, in very rare cases, salicylates have been linked to Reye’s syndrome in children.

Reye’s syndrome is a severe and potentially fatal condition that causes swelling of the brain and liver.

Due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, experts recommend that breastfeeding women seek alternatives to medications that contain salicylate, such as Pepto-Bismol.

Other risks associated with Pepto-Bismol use include:

  • a black, hairy appearance to the tongue
  • black stool
  • constipation

These effects are temporary and go away within a few days of stopping use.

In rare cases, Peptol-Bismol can cause ringing in the ears. If a person experiences this side effect, they should stop taking the medication and see a doctor immediately.

Also, Pepto-Bismol may interact with other medications, such as:

  • angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, or ACE inhibitors
  • aspirin and other types of salicylate
  • blood thinners
  • diabetes medications
  • gout medications
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs
  • some antiseizure drugs
  • some medications for irritable bowel syndrome
  • tetracycline antibiotics

Speak to a doctor before taking Pepto-Bismol, especially if pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking other medications.

Alternatives to Pepto-Bismol while breastfeeding

Some home remedies and medications can safely treat digestive problems while breastfeeding.

Treating diarrhea

Woman drinking a glass of water.
Staying hydrated is essential for women experiencing diarrhea while breastfeeding.

Diarrhea usually clears up within a few days without treatment. To reduce symptoms and discomfort during this time, a person should:

Stay hydrated

Diarrhea causes the body to lose fluid. Staying hydrated is essential while breastfeeding because dehydration can reduce the milk supply.

To replace any lost fluids, drink plenty of liquids. Healthful options include:

  • water
  • diluted fruit juices
  • clear broths
  • rehydrating solutions
  • isotonic drinks, which include many sports drinks

Avoid problematic foods

Some foods can make diarrhea worse. These trigger foods vary from person to person, but some of the most common culprits include:

  • fatty foods
  • fried foods
  • spicy meals
  • dairy products

See a doctor

If diarrhea persists for more than 2 days, see a doctor. They can help determine the cause and provide treatment options.

A doctor may recommend a medication that contains loperamide, such as Imodium, Maalox Antidiarrheal, or Pepto Diarrhea Control. These are generally safe to take while breastfeeding.

However, it is best to consult a doctor before taking any antidiarrheal preparation, including Pepto-Bismol.

Treating nausea

Some women experience nausea while breastfeeding. It may result from hormonal changes, mild dehydration, or low blood sugar.

To treat nausea at home, it can help to try:

  • drinking ginger or peppermint tea
  • taking vitamin B6 supplements
  • wearing antinausea or seasickness bands on the wrists
  • drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
  • eating frequent, nutritious meals to avoid low blood sugar

Treating acid reflux or heartburn

Woman sleeping on her left side in bed.
Sleeping on the left side of the body may help relieve heartburn.

Lifestyle changes can often provide significant relief from heartburn. These are also the safest options for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

If home remedies do not work, a doctor can recommend safe medications.

Lifestyle changes

To alleviate heartburn and acid reflux, a breastfeeding woman can try:

  • eating several small meals a day, instead of three large ones
  • drinking water between meals, rather than with meals
  • chewing food thoroughly
  • not eating for 2–3 hours before bed.
  • avoiding fatty, spicy, or acidic foods, carbonated drinks, chocolate, and caffeine
  • not lying down during or after meals
  • going for a light stroll after eating to encourage digestion
  • ensuring that clothing is loose around the stomach
  • sleeping on the left side of the body
  • elevating the head with pillows or bed risers

Medication

Some heartburn medicines may be safe to use while breastfeeding, including:

  • cimetidine (Tagamet)
  • famotidine (Pepcid)
  • nizatidine (Axid)
  • omeprazole (Prilosec)
  • ranitidine (Zantac)

When to see a doctor

Breastfeeding women who are experiencing heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, or other digestive complaints should contact a doctor for advice and treatment.

It is also essential to ask a doctor about the safety of any medication, including Pepto-Bismol, while breastfeeding.

If the doctor advises against using one medication, they can recommend others or drug-free treatments.

Takeaway

The available research suggests that Pepto-Bismol is not safe to take while breastfeeding. While there is no conclusive evidence that bismuth subsalicylate passes to the infant through breast milk, other salicylates do.

As a result, most authoritative organizations recommend avoiding salicylates while breastfeeding.

Alternative treatments are available to relieve digestive issues in breastfeeding women. For further information, speak with a doctor or pharmacist.

This information is designed for educational purposes only and should not be used in any other manner. This information is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified health care provider. A consultation with your health care professional is the proper method to address your health concerns. You are encouraged to consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition. Rapid advances in medicine may cause information contained here to become outdated, invalid or subject to debate. Accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

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