Breastfeeding taskforce

Statins While Breastfeeding: Are Cholesterol Drugs Safe?

Breastfeeding and caring for a baby can be a lot of work. Combining these tasks with controlling your health can also be a challenge. It is therefore understandable that some breastfeeding parents wonder how to breastfeed safely.

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

Since 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 find out if it’s safe to take cholesterol-lowering medications while breastfeeding, how breastfeeding affects cholesterol levels, and how to naturally manage cholesterol levels.

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

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

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

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 increasing its ability to remove LDL already present in your blood, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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

Healthcare professionals usually prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs, including statins, if you meet the following conditions 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
  • 40 to 75 years old with an increased risk of developing heart disease or stroke and an LDL level of 70 mg/dL or higher

Specific statins include:

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

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

However, according to the UT Southwestern Medical Center, many have not been studied enough to know if they can be taken safely while breastfeeding.

Other cholesterol medications like bile acid sequestrants are not consistently absorbed, but they can have other unwanted side effects. That’s why it’s essential to talk to your doctor about the best treatments for your situation.

A 2015 research review showed that both short-term and long-term breastfeeding were associated with lower atherogenic lipid profiles. In fact, 3 or more months of lactation was associated with a lower 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 ten% lower risk of cardiovascular disease 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.

Additionally, compared to formula-fed infants, the study showed that exclusively breastfed babies had higher plasma cholesterol levels and less endogenous cholesterol synthesis.

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

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

Cholesterol medications are just one tool for managing cholesterol levels. In addition to medical treatments, there are also natural interventions such as dietary changes, exercise, and lifestyle modifications that 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 fats completely.
  • Incorporate fish and other foods containing omega-3 fatty acids.

Move your body daily

Incorporating regular physical activity into your day can raise HDL levels and lower LDL and triglyceride levels, according to 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 on exercise for all ages and stages in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

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

Stop smoking

Smoking can lower your HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. It also increases triglycerides, according to the CDC. But quitting smoking can help prevent further harm. If you currently smoke, talk to your doctor about a plan to help you quit.

Manage your weight

Your doctor can discuss with you the possibility of losing weight if you are overweight. Indeed, being 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 at all stages of life. It also requires open communication with your doctor about the best plan for you, especially while breastfeeding.

In general, experts don’t recommend taking cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins while breastfeeding because the drugs can pass into breast milk, posing a risk to your baby.

In some cases, experts recommend continuing on a statin rather than breastfeeding. Other times you can take a break and try different ways to manage the levels until you are done breastfeeding.

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