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University of Toronto researchers working on new guidelines for breastfeeding

As breastfeeding becomes a more popular method for mothers to feed their infants, not much is known about whether or not a breastfeeding mother’s prescription medications adversely affect the child.

Right now, University of Toronto researchers are trying to change that. David Colantio, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology and clinical biochemist at SickKids, and Shinya Ito, from U of T’s Faculty of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and the head of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at SickKids, are working on guidelines to help guide new mothers through the process.

As 60 to 70 per cent of breastfeeding women use some form of medication, Colantio and Ito’s research is looking at over-the-counter drugs, like sleep medication and antihistamines, and prescription for Crohn’s, colitis, arthritis and depression, to see if it can have any effects on children.

Using specialized technology including high pressure liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, the researchers can accurately measure any drug at very low levels. In a way, this helps the researchers study the effects of certain drugs on nursing mothers, as pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to conduct research on this group.
“The reason is one of ethics and likely legal risk. It would be unethical to give nursing mothers a medication/drug that they may not need, exposing both the mother and the infant to both known and unknown side effects,” said Colantio. “The advantage of our research is that we are not prescribing any medications, the participating moms have been prescribed medication by their primary care provider and are concerned about how this may affect their nursing infant.”
Once they gather enough data, they plan to develop guidelines within the next two years. In the meantime, they’re providing individual guidance to women who have questions about breastfeeding while taking medication.
“We have published a case study demonstrating that a certain medication the mother was prescribed did result in seizures in her nursing infant. We have also presented preliminary data at scientific conferences, which has helped to generate interest in our research,” said Colantio. “Our long-term goal is to publish our results in peer reviewed scientific journals, continue to present our data at scientific conferences and to help draft and publish guidelines to help provide guidance to both physicians and nursing mothers. “
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