When Breast Isn't Best: Signs for When to Avoid Breastfeeding

Knowledgeable & compassionate pregnancy physicians at All About Women discuss which conditions limit breastfeeding, and which ones don't.

If you're an expectant mother considering breastfeeding, you may think you need to be in perfect health or have no vices in order to be a good candidate. In fact, there are only a few reasons why a woman can't breastfeed.

We'll examine the rare cases when breastfeeding isn't recommended, as well as other cases in which it’s still okay with the right precautions. And also learn some of the benefits of breastfeeding, and why it’s the best option for your newborn if it’s available to you.

When Not To Breastfeed

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breastfeeding is NOT recommended if one of the following conditions is present:

1. If the infant is diagnosed with galactosemia, a rare genetic metabolic disorder.

2. If the mother:

  • Is undergoing certain cancer treatments. Women undergoing chemotherapy treatments that interfere with DNA replication and cell division should not breastfeed. Women receiving radiation therapies though can breastfeed with some interruption.

  • Has an illicit drug dependency.
  • Is infected with HIV or is taking antiretroviral medications. An HIV positive mother may transmit HIV to her infant via breast milk.

  • Has active and untreated tuberculosis.

If one of these conditions applies to you and/or your baby, you can still ensure that you provide proper nutrition and bonding opportunities. Talk with your obstetrician (a.k.a. pregnancy doctor) to make a plan.

When Breastfeeding is Still Okay

A surprising number of conditions still allow for breastfeeding that is safe for both mother and child. You can STILL breastfeed if:

  • You have silicone breast implants. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a statement in 2001 that breastfeeding is still okay for new mothers with breast implants. Their statement explained that infant formula and cow's milk have higher concentrations of silicon than expressed milk from mothers with implants.

  • You are infected with Hepatitis B or C. If you have Hepatitis B, you can still nurse your baby safely, even before the baby is completely immunized. Those with Hepatitis C can breastfeed unless their nipples are cracked or bleeding, in which case breastfeeding can be resumed once the nipples heal.

  • You take prescription medication. Most prescription drugs are safe to take while breastfeeding. Check any routine prescriptions you take with your doctor before you begin breastfeeding, particularly if you take any type of psychotropic drug, some of which are not compatible. Your pregnancy doctor should be able to help you find medications that are both effective for you and safe for your baby.

  • You smoke. While the AAP recommends that women stop smoking during pregnancy and breastfeeding, smoking is not a contraindication for breastfeeding. Mothers who smoke, whether they breast or bottle feed, should make themselves aware of the long-term health effects second hand smoke can have on their children. If you're pregnant and interested in starting a smoking cessation program, you should talk to your pregnancy physician or midwife about the many available options.

  • You drink in moderation. The AAP does not consider alcohol to be a contraindication, or reason to not breastfeed. If you drink from time to time, limit your consumption and try to delay nursing by several hours after you drink. Talk to your pregnancy physician or midwife to understand more about how to responsibly drink when breastfeeding.

Some Reasons to Consider Breastfeeding

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization continue to maintain that breastfeeding is the optimal source of nutrition for an infant. Both groups recommend exclusive breastfeeding to the age of six months old, and breastfeeding to a year or beyond in combination with the introduction of solid foods.

The AAP notes that breastfeeding has a number of benefits for both infant and maternal health, including:

For the infant:

  • Reduced rates of ear infections, respiratory infections, and urinary tract infections
  • Prevention of type 1 and 2 diabetes
  • Prevention of childhood obesity

For the mother:

  • Decreased rate of breast and ovarian cancer
  • Earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight
  • Decreased postpartum bleeding

Talk With Your Pregnancy Doctor

Breastfeeding is out of the question for only a small minority of new mothers. Most women can be successful in meeting their breastfeeding goals with appropriate support from their pregnancy doctor(s), midwives, lactation consultants, family and workplaces.

To learn more about the basics of breastfeeding and its benefits, read our article Breastfeeding 101 today.

At Gainesville and Lake City's All About Women MD, our dedicated pregnancy physicians and midwives are here to provide compassionate care and guidance for the many decisions that come along with pregnancy and birth, including breastfeeding. Click here to learn more about pregnancy care...

If you have questions or concerns about breastfeeding or about pregnancy and birth in general, don't hesitate to make an appointment with our office today. And please browse our pregnancy care blog and learning center for more on breastfeeding, general prenatal care and much more.