An introduction to asthma and breastfeeding

Women with asthma often wonder what they should know about breastfeeding with this condition. Often there concerns regarding taking medication while breastfeeding. On the other hand, they may not realise that there is evidence to suggest exclusive breastfeeding for the first few months of life has a protective effect in preventing their baby from developing asthma.

 

What should I know about breastfeeding as a mum with asthma?

Benefits of breastfeeding for baby

Breast milk has been perfectly designed to suit your baby. Breast milk contains immune properties which help protect your baby against a host of infections. It also contains special fatty acids which help to develop the baby’s brain and thereby enhance your baby’s intelligence. It also has been shown to protect against allergic disease, which will be discussed below.

Benefits of breastfeeding for mother

For you, the mother, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and hip fractures (when compared to women who have not breast fed). breastfeeding helps the mother lose weight faster after pregnancy, when compared to non-breastfeeding mothers. Very importantly, breastfeeding also enhances bonding between mother and child.

Breastfeeding and asthma

A number of studies have shown that exclusively breastfeeding your baby for at least 3 months can decrease the risk of your baby developing asthma and other allergic diseases. This protective effect appears to be greater for mothers who have a family history of atopy compared to those who do not. Exclusive breastfeeding means that the baby is only fed breast milk during this time. In other words, the baby is not given any formula milk during this time.

 

Is it safe to take my asthma medication while I am breastfeeding?

The decision to continue to take asthma medications depends on the severity of your asthma and how well the medication you are taking is controlling your asthma. In general, there have been few studies looking into the effects of taking asthma while breastfeeding. It is thought that most asthma medications enter the breast milk in small amounts and they are not known to be harmful to the infant. Recommendations regarding the following commonly used asthma medications are as follows (taken from the Monthly Index of Medicines):

  • Inhaled preventers and relievers: It is not known how much of these drugs enter the breast milk although it is thought to be quite low. Therefore, it is recommended that they are not taken while the mother is breastfeeding unless their benefits outweigh any potential risks.
  • Oral corticosteroids: These drugs are secreted into the breast milk and it is therefore recommended that women do not take these drugs while breastfeeding.

It is wise to consult your GP before taking any medication while breastfeeding. Your doctor will know you what is suitable for your needs.

 

More information

woman_asthma_inhaler_respiratory_lungs_breathing_100x100 For everything you need to know about Asthma, including the symptoms, risk factors, treatments and other useful resources, visit Asthma

References

  1. Canadian Medical Association. ‘Summary of recommendations from the Canadian Asthma Consensus Guidelines 2003 and Canadian Pediatric Asthma Consensus Guidelines 2003’, Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2005; 173 (Suppl. 6):S1-S56.
  2. Frick, O. L., German, D. F. and Mills, J. ‘Development of allergy in children. I. Association with virus infections.’ J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1979; 63:228-41.
  3. Friedman, N. J. and Zeiger, R. S. ‘The role of breastfeeding in the development of allergies and asthma’, J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005; 115:1238-48.
  4. Gdalevich, M., Minouni, D. and Minouni, M. ‘Breast-feeding and the risk of bronchial asthma in childhood: A systematic review with meta-analysis of prospective studies. ‘ Journal of Paediatrics. 2001; 139:261-6.
  5. Health Communication Network, ‘MIMS online’ [online], MIMS Australia Pty Ltd, 2007. Available at: [URL Link] (last accessed: 20/3/07)
  6. McDonald, C. F. and Burdon, J. G. ‘Asthma in pregnancy and lactation: A position paper for the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand’, Medical Journal of Australia. 1996; 165:485.
  7. National Asthma Council Australia, ‘Pregnancy’ [online], June 2015. [cited 3 March 2016]. Available at: [URL link]
  8. Oddy, W. H., Holt, P. G., Sly, P. D. and al, e. ‘Association between breast feeding and asthma in 6 year old children: findings of a prospective birth cohort study’, British Medical Journal. 1999; 319:815.
  9. Rodriguez-Palmero, M., Koletzko, B., Kunz, C. and Jensen, R. ‘Nutritional and biochemical properties of human milk: II Lipids, micronutrients and bioactive factors.’ Clin Perinatol. 1999; 26:335-59.
  10. Yurchak, A. M. and Jusko, W. J. ‘Theophylline secretion into breast milk.’ Paediatrics. 1979; 57:518-25.