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Breastfeeding and caring for a baby can be a lot of work. Combining those tasks with keeping on top of your health might be a challenge, too. So, it’s understandable why some breastfeeding parents might question how to breastfeed safely.

One concern for some parents is whether they can continue taking cholesterol-lowering medications like statins while breastfeeding.

Because medications can pass through breast milk, it’s a good idea to make this decision with your doctor. However, there are some guidelines and recommendations to be aware of before making an appointment.

Read on to learn whether it is safe to take cholesterol-lowering medications while breastfeeding, how breastfeeding affects cholesterol levels, and how to manage cholesterol levels naturally.

The FDA recommends that people who are breastfeeding avoid taking a statin because the medication may pass into breast milk, posing a risk to your baby.

The FDA says some people can stop taking statins temporarily while breastfeeding. However, if it is essential to have ongoing treatment with statins, they recommend that you continue taking a statin and use infant formula or other alternatives instead of breastfeeding.

It is important to avoid making this decision alone or discontinuing a statin without your doctor’s approval. Your prescribing physician can help you decide the best course to take for your health and your baby’s safety.

Statins are prescription medications that typically help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or “bad cholesterol,” in the blood. They work by slowing your liver’s production of cholesterol while also increasing its ability to remove LDL already in your blood, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Your doctor may prescribe a statin to treat high cholesterol, especially if you have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Healthcare professionals usually prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications, including statins, if you meet the following criteria:

  • a history of heart attack or stroke
  • peripheral arterial disease
  • an LDL level of 190 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher
  • ages 40 to 75 with diabetes and an LDL level of 70 mg/dL or higher
  • ages 40 to 75 with an increased risk of developing heart disease or stroke and an LDL level of 70 mg/dL or higher

Specific statin drugs include:

  • atorvastatin
  • fluvastatin
  • lovastatin
  • pitavastatin
  • pravastatin
  • rosuvastatin
  • simvastatin

Statins are the most popular medications for managing cholesterol, but they’re not the only ones available.

However, according to the UT Southwestern Medical Center, many have not been studied enough to know if they are safe to take when breastfeeding.

Other cholesterol medications like bile acid sequestrants are not systematically absorbed, but they may have other adverse side effects. That’s why it’s critical to talk with your doctor about the best treatments for your situation.

A 2015 research review showed that short- and long-term breastfeeding was associated with lower atherogenic lipid profiles. In fact, 3 months or more of lactation was associated with a smaller reduction in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good cholesterol” levels.

A large 2017 study found that breastfeeding was associated with a lower risk of developing high cholesterol, and a history of breastfeeding was associated with about a 10% lower risk of cardiovascular diseases later in life.

Yes, cholesterol passes through breast milk to the baby. In fact, a 2019 study reported that breast milk had higher cholesterol levels than formula.

Moreover, compared with infants who were formula fed, the study showed that exclusively breastfed babies had higher plasma cholesterol and less endogenous cholesterol synthesis.

But having a higher plasma cholesterol level is not a negative factor for a baby. Cholesterol helps with brain and nerve development. It also helps make hormones.

A 2021 study showed that breastfed babies had lower total cholesterol levels later in life.

Cholesterol-lowering medications are just one tool for managing cholesterol levels. In addition to medical treatments, there are also natural interventions like dietary changes, exercise, and lifestyle modifications you may want to try.

Change your diet

Making changes to your diet can have a positive impact on your overall cholesterol levels, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

Here are some things to try:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Increase your dietary fiber intake.
  • Limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
  • Avoid trans-fat completely.
  • Incorporate fish and other foods with omega-3 fatty acids.

Move your body daily

Incorporating regular physical activity into your day can raise HDL levels and reduce LDL levels and triglycerides, per the AAFP.

Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. Also, consider adding a few days of resistance training. You can find more information about exercise for all ages and stages in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

As always, if you have specific questions related to your health, talk with your doctor about the best exercise program for you.

Quit smoking

Cigarette smoking can lower your HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. It also raises triglycerides, according to the CDC. But quitting smoking can help prevent further damage. If you currently smoke, talk with your doctor about a plan to help you stop smoking.

Manage your weight

Your doctor may talk with you about losing weight if you have overweight. That’s because having overweight can raise total cholesterol levels, according to the AAFP.

In many cases, even a small change can make a significant difference in your LDL and total cholesterol levels.

Managing cholesterol levels requires a comprehensive treatment plan that works during all stages of life. It also requires open communication with your doctor about the best plan for you, especially while breastfeeding.

In general, experts do not recommend taking a cholesterol-lowering medications like statins while breastfeeding because the drugs may pass into breast milk, posing a risk to your baby.

In some cases, experts recommend continuing a statin over breastfeeding. Other times, you can take a break from the medication and try different ways to manage levels until you finish breastfeeding.

Ultimately, it is important to make the decision with your doctor.