Many medications can be used safely by women who are breastfeeding, and the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh most harms related to babies' exposure, a panel of pediatricians said today.

In a clinical report, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Drugs said mothers may be "inappropriately advised" to stop breastfeeding or to stop taking their medications, for fear the drugs will be passed through breast milk and harm infants.

"Sometimes people are told that, because physicians may be worried about the risks the drug may pose ... and aren't necessarily thinking about the potential benefit of breastfeeding," said Dr. Hari Cheryl Sachs, the lead author on the report.

That benefit includes a lower risk of ear infections, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sachs said properties of the drug itself, whether it's being used on a long- or short-term basis, and the age and health of the infant all affect safety.

In its report, published Monday in Pediatrics, the committee focused on a few classes of drugs, including antidepressants, narcotics and smoking cessation aids.

Limited information is available on the long-term effects of antidepressants on babies, it wrote, and because the drugs take a long time to break down, levels could build up in infants' bodies.

"Caution is advised" for certain powerful painkillers such as codeine and hydrocodone - but others including morphine are considered safer when used at the lowest possible dose and for the shortest possible time, pediatricians said.

Nicotine replacement therapy, especially gum and lozenges, is typically considered safe to use during breastfeeding, according to the committee. However the FDA discourages the use of stop-smoking drugs such as varenicline, marketed in the U.S. as Chantix, among women who breastfeed.

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