X rays and Breastfeeding

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The information provided is taken from various reference sources.  It is provided as a guideline.  No responsibility can be taken by the author or the Breastfeeding Network for the way in which the information is used.  Clinical decisions remain the responsibility of medical and breastfeeding practitioners.  The data presented here is intended to provide some immediate information but cannot replace input from professionals.

X rays are used to look at bones and other structures within the body e.g. to identify fractures, to look at the state of teeth, to determine damage to joints, pneumonia etc.

As they pass through the body, the energy from X-rays is absorbed at different rates by different parts of the body.  A detector on the other side of the body picks up the X-rays after they’ve passed through and turns them into an image.

Dense parts of your body that X-rays find it more difficult to pass through, such as bone, show up as clear white areas on the image.  Softer parts that X-rays can pass through more easily, such as your heart and lungs, show up as darker areas.(http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/X-ray/Pages/Introduction.aspx).

Where possible X rays are avoided during pregnancy but there is no reason to avoid them during breastfeeding.  Diagnostic X-rays have no known effect on the milk in the breast at the time of imaging, nor on milk production.  No special precautions are required (LactMed).

In some situations a contrast agent may be used in addition to the X-ray.  This can help show soft tissues more clearly on the X-ray.  These include:

  • barium swallow – a substance called barium is swallowed to help highlight the upper digestive system
  • barium enema – barium is passed into your bowel through your bottom

Barium is an inert agent which shows up under the X ray but is not absorbed into the body so would not affect the breastfed baby.

Because barium sulfate is not absorbed after oral or rectal administration, it will not enter the milk, reach the bloodstream of the infant or cause any adverse effects in breastfed infants.  No special precautions are required (LactMed).


©Dr Wendy Jones MBE, MRPharmS and the Breastfeeding Network Sept 2019