Ritalin During Pregnancy & Breastfeeding

by on May 17, 2012

Ritalin (Methylphenidate) is listed as a Pregnancy Category C medication by the FDA which indicates that there have been many studies undertaken to test the medication, however, few, if any, have used humans as test subjects. It may also mean that studies conducted on animals produced negative results to offspring.

The FDA will not guarantee the safety of medications in this category and it is therefore recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women abstain from this medication if it is possible for them to do so in a safe manner. The FDA suggests that patients and doctors do a thorough cost-benefit analysis to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks.

Ritalin During Pregnancy

There is currently no research suggesting that the use of Ritalin during pregnancy results in major birth defects. It should also be noted that any negative side effects that have been discovered are usually in relation to people who are abusing Ritalin, not those who are taking it as prescribed while being monitored by a physician. There is some evidence that in a case where a fetus is exposed to high levels of Ritalin in utero, there is an increased risk for brain defects that may predispose the baby to ADHD and other developmental disabilities.

There is also some anecdotal evidence suggesting that mothers who abuse Ritalin during pregnancy are more likely to have underweight and premature babies.

Ritalin During Breastfeeding

There is currently mixed research as to whether the small amount of Ritalin that is excreted into the mother’s milk can have any effect on breastfeeding babies.

While some scientists say the dosage is so small it cannot have an effect, others counter that any amount of stimulant to a baby could be harmful. Current studies, however, have failed to prove which side of the debate is correct. Similar to the position for Ritalin and pregnancy, the FDA suggests that physicians and patients weight the benefits and possible side-effects to determine the best solution. In the case of patients with a severe need for Ritalin treatment, the option of bottle-feeding may be the best solution.

Addiction Worries

As Ritalin is a stimulant, there is some worry that babies who receive the drug across the placental barrier, or who receive it through the mother’s milk, may have some risk of developing a dependency to the drug. There is some evidence that babies who have been subjected to large amounts of Ritalin when in utero have, in fact, suffered some levels of withdrawal after birth. There are currently no studies supporting the idea that breastfed babies can develop a dependency from the breast milk alone.

With the available evidence, the prevailing advice is to avoid Ritalin use during pregnancy if at all possible. With breastfeeding, if concerns exist and the medication is needed, the safest option may be to consider bottle-feeding during treatment to ensure the baby has no unnecessary exposure to Ritalin.