ps [added 17 November 2012]
This US FDA website gives reliable guidance on codeine ultra-rapid metabolisers.
A baby's ability to breastfeed is one of the key 'performance indicators' that I observe after birth.
The majority of my work is with women and babies who are free of medication, giving birth to healthy babies at Term. Babies behave in the normal physiological fashion when the mother takes her child to her breast, and they remain together, skin to skin, for the next couple of hours. Babies seek the breast, making licking and rooting movements and moving in a distinctive way until they are in place and can take the breast and suckle effectively. This process is known as the breast crawl.
When a woman giving birth requires surgery she is given drugs. The anaesthetist and the obstetrician will prescribe whatever they consider to be necessary.
I am concerned about the current drug of choice for postnatal pain relief, Endone.
In the past year I have worked with three women who received Endone postnatally, and I believe I have observed a strong sedative effect of the drug on two of these babies. They became quite uninterested in the breast after the first breast feed, which had been unremarkable.
Recently another client of mine had a caesarean for obstructed labour, and I talked with her and the midwife in the postnatal ward 12 hours after the birth. The analgesia ordered was Endone (for 48 hours), Panadol and Voltarin. We agreed that if she was needing Endone she would breastfeed first, then take the drug. She has progressed very well with breastfeeding, went home on the third day - in fact this baby does a little breast crawl like a pro for every feed!
I am now checking for research literature specifically on Endone (oxycodone) and breastfeeding. Other midwives have said they share my concerns. A quick Google search came up with a very clear statement: "Do not take ENDONE during pregnancy or during breastfeeding as it may cause difficulty in breathing in an unborn or newborn child." [at http://www.mydr.com.au/medicines/cmis/endone-tablets]
A colleague who lives in regional Victoria told me that one of the local hospitals uses Endone less than the others, and that the local GPs, who provide anaesthetic services for the hospital, are still giving spinal morphine 1mg which works so well that very few women require more than Panadol and Voltaren.
I spoke to the pharmacist at a tertiary materntiy hospital in Melbourne, and he gave me some more information. He agreed that it's a very potent opioid that has a high transfer ratio into the milk, and variation from person to person as to how they metabolize Endone into morphine substances - hence variation in effect. He said the doses given appear to be pretty hefty.
The medical justification seems to be relatively short half life - 3-6 hours; that it's only used for 48 hours, claiming that the majority of babies are not sedated, and that the amount of colostrum the baby gets is pretty negligible anyway !!. Read here breastfeeding isn't something 'we' care much about!
The Lactmed site notes that "Newborn infants seem to be particularly sensitive to the effects of even small dosages of narcotic analgesics, particularly in the first week of life."
Dr Tom Hale, a world-respected expert and author on medications and mother's milk, has a forum
Hale states that "Oxycodone is a categoryL3... moderately safe, to be used only if the potential benefit to mother justifies potential risk to baby, and it has a half life of 3-6 hrs." Potential benefit to mother justifies potential risk to baby. I wonder how many mothers are given the opportunity to consider the risk/benefit before they swallow the tablet?
A newborn infant has important work to do, including learning how to breast feed. A newborn infant who is being systematically sedated through dangerous drugs that are passing from mother's blood to mother's milk, is being put at risk of breastfeeding delay leading to dehydration, jaundice, and a subsequent cascade of interventions, each with their own package of risks. The mother, receiving powerful sedation, is also likely to experience iatrogenic (physician-induced) difficulties with bonding and establishing breastfeeding.
I have often mused on the fact that "would you like something to help with the pain?" really means "would you like me to give you a dangerous drug?" I wish I knew a friendly cartoonist.
The anaesthetists and obstetricians really need to be questioned about this.
We live in a culture of acceptance of 'doctor knows best'. Women who undergo surgery for birth place an enormous trust in their surgeons and the other medical people - we need to act in their interests and on behalf of their babies.
I would like to ask that anyone reading this blog who works in the system, and who observes any cases where the baby of a mother receiving Endone in the early postnatal days appears sedated or performs poorly at breastfeeding, please draw attention to it. Speak to the obs and anaes departments, and point out what you observe. Ask them if they are aware of other such problems. Speak to the midwife manager of the unit, and ask her if she would support an internal audit of use of Endone. Find out what application is needed to get data from the general records. How often is it prescribed? What doses? (the pharmacy should be able to tell you this) Does the hospital have a protocol for the use of Endone? (you may find this on the hospital's intranet) What is the rate of supplementation of breastfeeding babies who were born by Caesarean (all the Baby Friendly hospitals should be able to give this data easily. Feeding on discharge is recorded on the Victorian perinatal statistics, so there could be some initial comparisons done.)
And while we're on the topic, I think some midwives are telling women in early labour to take some Panadeine and go to bed. Has anyone else heard this? In that case the codeine part of the drug will be added to the opioid soup in baby's system in the early days.
This is just not good enough!