Breastfeeding and Autoimmune Disease Myths: What Mothers Need to Know
Breastfeeding is a natural and cherished process that promotes the healthy development of newborns while forging a unique bond between mothers and their babies. However, for patients breastfeeding with an autoimmune disease, concerns about medication safety and the potential transmission of their condition through breastmilk can cast a shadow on this beautiful experience. In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of breastfeeding, debunk common myths surrounding autoimmune conditions, and delve into the safety of medications used by rheumatology patients during breastfeeding.

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is widely recognized as the optimal source of nutrition and immune protection for infants. The benefits extend to both the baby and the mother, including these common positive outcomes:

Your decision to disclose your condition is completely up to you. Only share what you feel comfortable with. However, if you do choose to share, you may create a supportive network within your dorm that can make your experience more positive.

Nutritional Excellence

Breast milk provides the ideal balance of nutrients tailored to the infant’s needs, promoting healthy growth and development. This is still the case if a mother is being treated for a specific condition like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, and other autoimmune conditions.

Immune Boost

Breast milk contains antibodies and immune-boosting compounds that help protect babies from infections and diseases. Even while the mother is on medications that may alter her immune system, breastmilk still provides helpful antibodies to the infant that formula options do not provide.


The intimate act of breastfeeding nurtures a strong emotional bond between mother and baby. Even breastfeeding once per day leads to an increase in oxytocin, the hormone that is responsible for lowering stress in mom and baby, as well as fostering trust and love.

Long-term Health

Breastfed infants have a reduced risk of allergies, obesity, and chronic diseases later in life. Pumping breastmilk provides these same benefits, so even if you do not directly breastfeed every feed (or exclusively pump), these benefits still apply.

Maternal Benefits

Breastfeeding assists the mother’s postpartum recovery, helping with weight management and reducing the risk of certain cancers like breast cancer. There is no specific time frame needed to breastfeed to benefit in this way, so any amount of time a mom is able to breastfeed is beneficial.

Common Myths and Misconceptions

There are several common myths about breastfeeding and an autoimmune disease diagnosis. It is recommended to talk with your rheumatologist about concerns that you may have about breastfeeding and your individual diagnosis and medications. Several common myths include:

Myth 1: Autoimmune Conditions are Contagious

One very common myth is that autoimmune conditions are contagious. Autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, Sjogrens, and others are not caused by pathogens like viruses or bacteria. Instead, they result from a complex interplay of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Autoimmune conditions are not transmitted through close contact, including breastfeeding. As a mother, you cannot transmit your condition to your baby through breastmilk. Your rheumatologist can help answer questions regarding the potential for genetic inheritance of the same condition, but this is different than your baby “catching” your condition from pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Myth 2: Breastfeeding Will Make My Condition Worse

It is not always predictable whether a patient’s autoimmune condition will flare after pregnancy, or if the mother will be in remission following pregnancy. Breastfeeding does not play a specific role in a condition flaring and many mothers who are in remission during pregnancy can remain in remission during the post-partum period if they decide to breastfeed. Factors like medication, stress, nutrition, and getting enough sleep can all play a role in the status of disease activity following pregnancy. Maintaining close follow up with your rheumatologist during this time will be an important aspect of keeping your condition under control during your breastfeeding journey.

It is Not Safe to Breastfeed On My Medication

There are certain medications that are not recommended to take while pregnant or breastfeeding, but the medications that are safe during pregnancy are also safe to continue while breastfeeding. If you find that you need to change or adjust your medications while you are breastfeeding, make sure that your rheumatologist is aware of your breastfeeding goals so you can have a conversation together. There are plenty of options for treatment that a mother should not be discouraged to breastfeed as long as the underlying condition is not severe during the postpartum period.

Safety of Medications During Breastfeeding

For mothers managing breastfeeding and an autoimmune condition under the care of a rheumatologist, concerns often arise regarding the safety of medications while breastfeeding. The good news is that many medications commonly used to treat autoimmune conditions are compatible with breastfeeding. Rheumatologists are well-versed in balancing the management of the mother’s condition with the safety of the breastfeeding infant.

The organization MotherToBaby, a valuable resource for information about medication use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, provides evidence-based information to guide healthcare decisions. They offer a comprehensive database of medications, their potential effects, and whether they are safe for use during breastfeeding. Consulting this resource in collaboration with your healthcare provider can provide peace of mind and accurate guidance.

Rheumatology Medications and Breastfeeding

Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs):

NSAIDs like ibuprofen are often used to manage pain and inflammation in autoimmune conditions. These medications are generally considered safe during breastfeeding in standard doses.

Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs):

Some DMARDs, such as hydroxychloroquine, sulfasalazine, and azathioprine, are considered safe during breastfeeding. However, methotrexate and mycophenolate mofetil should be avoided due to potential risks to the baby.

Biologic Therapies:

Biologic medications like TNF inhibitors have varying recommendations depending on the specific medication. These recommendations are dependent on the use of live vaccines like the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and rotavirus vaccines that are given to infants. Consultation with your rheumatologist and referencing MotherToBaby can help guide decisions about the use of biologic medications while breastfeeding.


Short-term use of corticosteroids is generally considered safe during breastfeeding. However, high doses or prolonged use may require careful monitoring.


Breastfeeding offers a multitude of benefits for both infants and mothers, regardless of a mother’s diagnosis of an autoimmune condition. Dispelling myths surrounding the transmission of diseases through breast milk and the safety of taking certain medications is crucial to empowering mothers to make informed decisions. With the guidance of a knowledgeable rheumatologist and resources like MotherToBaby, mothers can navigate the realm of medication safety during breastfeeding with confidence. As a patient and new mother navigating breastfeeding and an autoimmune disease, your healthcare provider is your best ally in creating a personalized plan that prioritizes your well-being and that of your precious baby. Despite having a chronic condition, breastfeeding can still be an achievable and enjoyable goal for all mothers.

Your rheumatology specialists at Summit Rheumatology are here for you throughout your pregnancy and breastfeeding journey. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Brittany Panico DO, give us a call at (480) 494-2770 or send us a message.

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