Whether her congestion results from seasonal allergies or a cold, a breastfeeding mother may wonder what she can do to help herself without hurting her baby. She should seek treatment while the discharge remains clear in color, as yellow or green congestion may signal a more serious underlying infection. A breastfeeding mother should discuss symptoms with her doctor or midwife before taking any medicine.
Many safe natural remedies exist for both mother and breastfeeding baby. The breastfeeding resource Kellymom.com suggests mothers try a saline nasal spray or neti pot rinse. A steam humidifier with 10 to 20 drops of the essential oils eucalyptus, sage, balsam or anise helps open the nasal passages, as does a cotton ball soaked in eucalyptus oil and placed under the nose. Cayenne pepper dilates the blood vessels and aids with drainage. Kellymom.com also lists fenugreek tea as a natural decongestant that has the added benefit of increasing milk supply. In addition, while hot lemonade with honey is not a decongestant per say, it safely soothes a mother's sore throat.
A July 2003 "Journal of Clinical Pharmacology" study lists pseudoephedrine among safe drugs for breastfeeding mothers and their babies, but it may reduce milk supply. The situation resolves itself with short-term use of the drug. The American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, echoes these findings, rating the drug L3, or moderately safe, for acute use and L4, or potentially hazardous, for chronic use. Brand names for pseudoephedrine include Sudafed, Actifed, Halofed and Novafed, among others.
The AAP has not yet reviewed phenylephrine, a slightly newer formulation of decongestant. However, mothers may prefer it over pseudoephedrine as it does not reduce milk supply, according to Dr. Thomas Hale's Medications and Mothers' Milk. Brand names of phenylephrine include Sudafed PE, Robitussin CF, DayQuil and Tylenol Sinus Congestion and Pain, among others.
Antihistamines help dry out the sinuses. The AAP approves of the use of the nonsedating antihistamines Allegra, Claritin, Seldane and Actidil in breastfeeding mothers. Dr. Hale rates these medications in the L1 and L2 categories, meaning they have little to no effect on lactation. Kellymom.com reports that while the AAP does not yet approve of sedating antihistamines such as Benadryl, they are safe in moderation, as long as the mother watches her infant closely for signs of excess drowsiness. Sedating antihistamines do not adversely affect milk supply.