Can I Take Nyquil While Breastfeeding?

Medically reviewed by Zara Risoldi Cochrane, PharmD, MS, FASCP on August 29, 2016Written by University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group on August 29, 2016

Introduction

If you’re breastfeeding and have a cold—we feel for you! And we know that you’re probably looking for a way to ease your cold symptoms so you can get a good night’s sleep. At the same time, though, you want to keep your child safe.

Nyquil products are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs used to relieve temporary nighttime cold and flu symptoms. These include cough, sore throat, headache, minor aches and pains, and fever. They also include nasal and sinus congestion or pressure, runny nose, and sneezing. Certain types of Nyquil are likely safe to take if you’re breastfeeding, while others come with precautions.

How Nyquil treats your symptoms

Nyquil products contain a combination of the active ingredients acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, doxylamine, and phenylephrine. They come in liquicaps, caplets, and liquid forms. Common Nyquil products include:

  • Vicks Nyquil Cold & Flu (acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and doxylamine)
  • Vicks Nyquil Severe Cold & Flu (acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, doxylamine, and phenylephrine)
  • Vicks Nyquil Cough Suppressant (dextromethorphan and doxylamine)

The table below describes how the ingredients work together to treat different cold and flu symptoms.

Active ingredientSymptoms treatedHow it worksSafe to take if breastfeeding?
acetaminophen sore throat, headache, minor aches and pains, feverchanges the way your body feels pain, affects the body’s temperature regulation system in the brain yes
dextromethorphan HBrcough due to minor throat and bronchial irritationaffects the part of the brain that controls coughingyes
doxylamine succinate runny nose and sneezingblocks the action of histamine*likely**
phenylephrine HClnasal and sinus congestion and pressure reduces swelling of blood vessels in nasal passageslikely**
*Histamine is a substance in the body that causes allergic symptoms, including runny nose and sneezing. Blocking histamine also makes you drowsy, which can help you sleep better.
**There are no studies on the safety of this drug while breastfeeding. It’s likely safe, but you should ask your doctor before using it.

There are other forms of Nyquil available. Be sure to check the label for active ingredients before taking them. They may contain additional active ingredients that may be unsafe for breastfeeding moms.

Effects of Nyquil when breastfeeding

Each of the active ingredients in Nyquil works differently, and each can affect your breastfeeding child in a different way.

Acetaminophen

A very small percentage of acetaminophen passes into breast milk. The only side effect that’s been reported in breastfed infants is a very rare rash that goes away when you stop taking the medication. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, acetaminophen is safe to take when you’re breastfeeding.

Dextromethorphan

It’s likely that dextromethorphan passes into breast milk, and there’s limited data on the effect it has on breastfeeding children. Still, the small amount of information that is available suggests that dextromethorphan is safe to use while breastfeeding.

Doxylamine

Taking too much doxylamine may decrease the amount of breast milk your body makes. Doxylamine also likely passes into breast milk. The effect this drug has on a breastfeeding child is unknown.

However, doxylamine is an antihistamine, and these drugs are known to cause drowsiness. As a result, it may cause drowsiness in your breastfeeding child. Your child may also have other side effects from the medication, such as:

  • irritability
  • unusual sleeping patterns
  • hyper-excitability
  • excessive sleepiness or crying

All forms of Nyquil contain doxylamine. Because of the possible effects on your child, be sure to ask your doctor if it’s safe to take Nyquil while you’re breastfeeding.

Phenylephrine

This drug likely passes into breast milk. However, phenylephrine is poorly absorbed by your body when you take it by mouth. So, the overall effects on your child would likely be small. However, you should check with your doctor before using any medication that contains phenylephrine.
Decongestants such as phenylephrine may also decrease how much breast milk your body makes. You should watch your milk supply and drink extra fluids as needed to help boost your milk production.

Alcohol in Nyquil

The active ingredients in Nyquil are generally safe. However, the liquid forms of Nyquil also contain alcohol as an inactive ingredient. You shouldn’t consume products that contain alcohol while you’re breastfeeding.

This is because alcohol can pass through breast milk. When a drug passes into your breast milk, it can cause side effects in your child when you feed them. Your child can experience too much weight gain, changes in sleep patterns, and hormone problems from alcohol that passes through your breast milk.

To help avoid these problems, wait two to 2 1/2 hours to breastfeed after having any kind of alcohol, including the small amounts that are in liquid Nyquil.

Talk to your doctor

If you have cold or flu symptoms while breastfeeding, ask your doctor these questions:

  • Are there any nondrug options I can take to relieve my symptoms?
  • Can you recommend a product that will relieve my symptoms that does not contain alcohol?
  • How long can I use Nyquil safely?
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