Azathioprine use while Breastfeeding
Drugs containing Azathioprine: Imuran, Azasan
Azathioprine Levels and Effects while Breastfeeding
Summary of Use during Lactation
Most experts consider breastfeeding during azathioprine to be acceptable. Studies in women with inflammatory bowel disease, systemic lupus erythematosus or transplantation taking doses of azathioprine up to 200 mg daily for immunosuppression have found either low or unmeasurable levels of the active metabolites in milk and infant serum. Some evidence indicates a lack of adverse effects on the health and development of infants exposed to azathioprine during breastfeeding up to 3 years of age, but long-term follow-up for effects such as carcinogenesis have not been performed. Mothers with decreased activity of the enzyme that detoxifies azathioprine metabolites may transmit higher levels of drug to their infants in breastmilk. Cases of mild, asymptomatic neutropenia have been reported, so it might be desirable to monitor exclusively breastfed infants with a complete blood count with differential, and liver function tests if azathioprine is used during lactation, although some authors feel that monitoring is unnecessary. Avoiding breastfeeding for 4 to 6 hours after a dose should markedly decrease the dose received by the infant in breastmilk.
Azathioprine is rapidly metabolized to the active metabolite mercaptopurine which is further metabolized to active metabolites including 6-methylmercaptopurine, thioguanine, 6-thioguanine nucleosides (6-TGNs), 6-methylmercaptopurine, and 6-methylmercaptopurine nucleosides (6-MMPNs). The enzyme thiopurine methyltransferase (TPMT) is responsible for metabolism of 6-TGNs. Deficiencies in this enzyme can lead to excessive toxicity.
Maternal Levels. Mercaptopurine milk levels were measured in 2 patients receiving azathioprine following renal transplantation. In one mother who was 2 days postpartum, peak colostrum levels occurred 2 and 8 hours after a 75 mg oral dose and were 3.4 and 4.5 mcg/L, respectively. In the other mother who was 7 days postpartum, a peak mercaptopurine milk level of 18 mcg/L occurred 2 hours after a 25 mg oral dose. The milk levels of these 2 mothers correspond to 0.05% and 0.6% of the maternal weight-adjusted dosages, respectively. Infant serum levels were not measured.
Four women receiving an immunomodulator to treat inflammatory bowel disease had metabolite levels measured in milk during the first 6 weeks postpartum. The abstract does not mention the specific drug and dose being taken, but the azathioprine metabolites 6-methylmercaptopurine (6-MMP) and 6-TGNs were measured. Although therapeutic levels were found in maternal serum, 6-MMP (<650 mcg/L) and 6-TGNs were undetectable (<123 mcg/L) in milk (time of collection not stated).
A case series described 2 mothers who took azathioprine 100 mg daily while breastfeeding. Each mother collected milk samples over a 24-hour period, 5 and 6 samples, respectively. Mercaptopurine was undetectable (<5 mcg/L) in all of the samples. The authors estimated that the maximum dose of mercaptopurine that a completely breastfed infant would receive would be 0.09% of the maternal weight-adjusted dosage or 0.07% of the dose given to infants following cardiac transplantation.
Ten women who were taking azathioprine 75 to 150 mg daily at the time of delivery for systemic lupus erythematosus (n = 7), renal transplant (n = 2) or Crohn's disease (n = 1) donated milk samples on days 3 to 4, 7 to 10 and 28 postpartum. Milk was collected before the single daily dose and at each breastfeed for 12 to 18 hours for a total of 31 samples. Only one woman taking azathioprine 100 mg daily had mercaptopurine detected in her milk. On day 28 postpartum, milk mercaptopurine concentrations were 1.2 mcg/L at 3 hours and 7.6 mcg/L at 6 hours after the dose.
Eight lactating women who were 1.5 to 7 months postpartum were taking azathioprine in dosages ranging from 75 to 200 mg daily for inflammatory bowel disease. All of the women had wild type TPMT phenotypes. Peak mercaptopurine milk concentrations occurred within the first 4 hours after ingesting of the dose of azathioprine and ranged from 2 to 50 mcg/L. By 5 hours after the dose, the milk concentrations of mercaptopurine had dropped markedly in all patients. The authors estimated that the "worst case" infant intake of mercaptopurine would 0.0075 mg/kg daily which is less than 1% of the maternal weight-adjusted dosage.
Infant Levels. Four infants were breastfed (3 exclusively, 1 rarely received formula) during maternal use of azathioprine orally in dosages of 1.2 to 2.1 mg/kg daily. All of the mothers and infants had the wild type TPMT *1/*1 genotype and all of the mothers had normal enzyme activity. At 3 to 3.5 months of age, all of the infants had undetectable blood levels of 6-TGNs and 6-MMPN. The authors later updated this report to include 2 previously unreported mother-infant pairs. These infant also had undetectable blood levels of 6-TGNs and 6-MMPN.
Seven infants were breastfed during maternal intake of azathioprine in single oral doses of 75 to 150 mg daily. None had detectable mercaptopurine or thioguanine in their blood obtained between days 1 and 28 postpartum.
Three infants whose mothers were taking azathioprine for inflammatory bowel disease (n = 2) or systemic lupus erythematosus (n = 1) were breastfed during maternal use of azathioprine. Azathioprine doses were 100 mg (plus prednisolone), 150 mg (plus infliximab) and 175 mg daily. In 1 infant, thioguanine was low, but detectable in blood at 3 days of age and 6-MMPN was undetectable; at 3 weeks of age, neither metabolite was detectable. In another infant, neither metabolite was detectable at 3 weeks of age. Neither assay limits nor specific maternal doses were stated in the published abstract.
A woman began taking azathioprine 100 mg (1.4 mg/kg) daily for Crohn's disease while breastfeeding (extent not stated) her 3-month-old infant. After 8 days and 3 months of maternal therapy, 6-TGNs were measured, although breastfeeding had been tapered to zero by 3 months. On both occasions, 6-TGNs were not detectable in the blood of the infant. The assay limit was not stated.
Effects in Breastfed Infants
Three infants were breastfed during long-term maternal azathioprine 75 to 100 mg daily and methylprednisolone use following renal transplantation. All three infants had no abnormal blood counts, no increased frequency of infections and above average growth rates. The IgA levels in one mother's breastmilk were measured and found to be normal.
One infant was breastfed for 6 days after birth by a mother who was taking azathioprine 75 mg daily in addition to cyclosporine. Nursing was interrupted for 4 days, then partial breastfeeding was reestablished. The infant showed no signs of renal or neurologic toxicity or hirsutism during long-term follow up.
Twelve infants were breastfed for up to 12 months during maternal use of azathioprine 50 to 100 mg daily (6 with concomitant cyclosporine) following kidney or kidney-pancreas transplantation. Kidney function was normal in all infants when measured after breastfeeding had ceased. The growth and psychomotor development of all infants was normal.
One infant was exclusively breastfed for 10.5 months during maternal use of azathioprine 100 mg daily, cyclosporine and prednisone. Partial breastfeeding continued for 2 years. The infant thrived with normal growth at 12 months. The mother also breastfed a second child while on the same drug regimen.
Four infants were breastfed (3 exclusively, 1 rarely received formula) during maternal use of azathioprine orally in dosages of 1.2 to 2.1 mg/kg daily. At 3 to 3.5 months of age, all infants were healthy and were within the 50th to 95th percentiles on growth charts. The authors reported 2 additional infants who received azathioprine via breastmilk with no adverse reactions detected.
In another case series, 4 infants were breastfed (partially in 1 case, not stated in the others) during maternal use of azathioprine. Two mothers took 100 mg daily, 1 took 75 mg daily and 1 took 50 mg daily and partially breastfed her preterm infant. All were taking several other medications concurrently. One infant was followed up at 1 month, 2 at 2 months and 1 at 1 year of age. No adverse events were reported in any of the infants and all were growing and developing normally.
Six infants whose mothers were breastfeeding and taking azathioprine were monitored monthly for the duration of their breastfeeding with blood counts and for evidence of infection. One infant developed a low blood count and breastfeeding was discontinued; the other 5 infants continued to breastfeed apparently without harm. The dosages of azathioprine, concurrent medications and the extent of breastfeeding were not reported in the brief published abstract.
Ten infants, 3 preterm, were breastfed during maternal intake of azathioprine in single oral doses of 75 to 150 mg daily. No signs of immunosuppression were seen in the infants during the first 28 days postpartum. In 7 of the infants, white cell and neutrophil counts were performed between days 1 and 28 postpartum. One infant had a borderline low neutrophil count but a normal white cell count.
A survey of women with autoimmune hepatitis found that 8 infants of 4 women had been breastfed (extent not stated) during maternal azathioprine use in unspecified dosages. No adverse effects were reported by the mothers.
An infant was breastfed (extent not stated) from birth to the age of 3 months during maternal therapy with azathioprine 100 mg (1.4 mg/kg) daily. During the 6 months of follow-up, the infant thrived and had no infections.
A nonrandomized, prospective study in Austria followed the infants of 23 women with inflammatory bowel disease who were treated in one clinic. Mothers who received azathioprine (median dose 150 mg daily; range 100 to 250 mg daily) for treatment breastfed for a median of 6 months (range 1 to 18 months) and those who did not take azathioprine breastfed for a median of 8 months (range 3.5 to 23 months). Follow-up occurred at a median of 3.3 years in the azathioprine-exposed infants (n = 15) and 4.7 years in the unexposed infants (n = 15). No differences were found in mental or physical development between the two groups of infants. More infants who were unexposed to azathioprine had more than 2 colds annually and more conjunctivitis episodes than in the unexposed group. No difference was seen in the numbers of other infections between the groups.
In The Netherlands, 30 infants of mothers taking either azathioprine (n = 28) or mercaptopurine (n = 2) for inflammatory bowel disease during pregnancy and postpartum were followed at 1 to 6 years of age using a 43-item quality of life questionnaire. Of this cohort, 9 infants were breastfed for a mean of 7 months (range 3 to 13 months) No statistically significant differences were found between breastfed and formula-fed infants in any of the 12 domains of the survey.
In France, 30 infants of 29 mothers who took azathioprine 50 to 175 mg daily during pregnancy and nursed for at least 1 month (range 1 to 17 months) were followed. Three infants had low white blood cell (WBC) counts at birth that normalized during breastfeeding (extent not stated). Of 20 infants who had later WBC counts, one had mild, asymptomatic neutropenia during 1.5 months of breastfeeding that persisted for 15 days following breastfeeding discontinuation. No other adverse effects were seen during a median of 9.5 months (range 1.5 to 30 months) of follow-up.
A prospective cohort study followed pregnant women with inflammatory bowel disease throughout pregnancy and for 12 months postpartum. Women were assigned to one of the following groups: unexposed (no thiopurines or anti-TNF agents); group A (azathioprine or mercaptopurine); group B (infliximab, adalimumab or certolizumab) and group AB (both a thiopurine and an anti-TNF agent). Of 1052 women enrolled in the study, 72% breastfed their infants, although the extent and duration were not stated in the abstract. A total of 264 women were exposed to a thiopurine and 59 were exposed to a thiopurine plus an anti-TNF agent. The use of a thiopurine alone was not associated with any complication in the infants and their growth and development were normal throughout the 12 months. Infants exposed to both a thiopurine and an anti-TNF agent had a 50% increase in the number of infections between 9 and 12 months of age. The relationship of this increase with breastfeeding could not be determined from the available data.
As of December 2013, The National Transplantation Pregnancy Registry has collected information on a total of 83 mothers who had breastfed 117 infants for as long as 42 months with no apparent adverse effects in infants.
Effects on Lactation and Breastmilk
Relevant published information was not found as of the revision date.
Alternate Drugs to Consider
1. Ha C, Dassopoulos T. Thiopurine therapy in inflammatory bowel disease. Expert Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010;4 :575-88. PMID: 20932143
2. van der Woude CJ, Kolacek S, Dotan I et al. European evidenced-based consensus on reproduction in inflammatory bowel disease. J Crohn's Colitis. 2010;4:493-510. PMID: 21122553
3. Hassid B, Mahadevan U. The use of biologic therapy in pregnancy: a gastroenterologist's perspective. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2014;26:347-53. PMID: 24625373
4. Nielsen OH, Maxwell C, Hendel J. IBD medications during pregnancy and lactation. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014;11:116-27. PMID: 23897285
5. Constantinescu S, Pai A, Coscia LA et al. Breast-feeding after transplantation. Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol. 2014;28:1163-73. PMID: 25271063
6. Christensen LA, Dahlerup JF, Nielsen MJ et alK. Azathioprine treatment during lactation: authors' reply. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2009 ;30:91. PMID: 19566905
7. Coulam CB, Moyer TP, Jiang NS et al. Breast-feeding after renal transplantation. Transplant Proc. 1982;13:605-9. PMID: 6817481
8. Kane SV, Present DH. Metabolites to immunomodulators are not detected in breast milk. Am J Gastroenterol. 2004;99 (10 Suppl S):S246-7. Abstract 761. DOI: doi:10.1111/j.1572-0241.2004.001_1.x
9. Moretti ME, Verjee Z, Ito S, Koren G. Breast-feeding during maternal use of azathioprine. Ann Pharmacother. 2006;40:2269-72. PMID: 17132809
10. Sau A, Clarke S, Bass J et al. Azathioprine and breastfeeding-is it safe? BJOG. 2007;114:498-501. PMID: 17261122
11. Christensen LA, Dahlerup JF, Nielsen MJ et al. Azathioprine treatment during lactation. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2008;28:1209-13. PMID: 18761704
12. Gardiner SJ, Gearry RB, Roberts RL et al. Exposure to thiopurine drugs through breast milk is low based on metabolite concentrations in mother-infant pairs. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2006;62:453-6. PMID: 16995866
13. Bernard N, Garayt C, Chol F et al. Prospective clinical and biological follow-up of three breastfed babies from azathioprine-treated mothers. Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 2007;21 (Suppl 1) :62-3. Abstract. DOI: doi:10.1111/j.1472-8206.2007.00481.x
14. Zelinkova Z, De Boer IP, Van Dijke MJ et al. Azathioprine treatment during lactation. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2009;30:90-1; author reply 91. PMID: 19566905
15. Grekas DM, Vasiliou SS, Lazarides AN. Immunosuppresive therapy and breast-feeding after renal transplantation. Nephron. 1984;37:68. Letter. PMID: 6371564
16. Madill JE, Levy G, Greig P. Pregnancy and breast-feeding while receiving cyclosporine A. In: Williams BAH S-GD, eds. Trends in organ transplantation. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1996:109-21.
17. Nyberg G, Haljamae U, Frisenette-Fich C et al. Breast-feeding during treatment with cyclosporine. Transplantation. 1998;65:253-5. PMID: 9458024
18. Munoz-Flores-Thiagarajan KD, Easterling T, Davis C et al. Breast-feeding by a cyclosporine-treated mother. Obstet Gynecol. 2001;97(5 pt 2):816-8. PMID: 11336764
19. Gardiner SJ, Gearry RB, Roberts RL et al. Comment: breast-feeding during maternal use of azathioprine. Ann Pharmacother. 2007. PMID: 17389671
20. Khare MM, Lott J, Currie A, Howarth E. Is it safe to continue azathioprine in breast feeding mothers? J Obstet Gynaecol. 2003;23 (Suppl 1):S48. Abstract 53. DOI: doi:10.1080/718591746
21. Werner M, Bjornsson E, Prytz H et al. Autoimmune hepatitis among fertile women: strategies during pregnancy and breastfeeding? Scand J Gastroenterol. 2007;42:986-91. PMID: 17613929
22. Angelberger S, Reinisch W, Messerschmidt A et al. Long-term follow-up of babies exposed to azathioprine in utero and via breastfeeding. J Crohns Colitis. 2011;5:95-100. PMID: 21453877
23. de Meij TG , Jharap B, Kneepkens CM et al. Long-term follow-up of children exposed intrauterine to maternal thiopurine therapy during pregnancy in females with inflammatory bowel disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2013;38:38-43. PMID: 23675854
24. Bernard N, Gouraud A, Paret N et al. Azathioprine and breastfeeding: long-term follow-up. Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 2013;27 (Suppl 1):12. Abstract 05-03. DOI: doi:10.1111/fcp.12025
25. Mahadevan U, Martin CF, Sandler RS et al. PIANO: a 1000 patient prospective registry of pregnancy outcomes in women with IBD exposed to immunomodulators and biologic therapy. Gastroenterology . 2012;142 (5 Suppl 1):S149. Abstract 865.
CAS Registry Number
LactMed Record Number
Last Revision Date
Information presented in this database is not meant as a substitute for professional judgment. You should consult your healthcare provider for breastfeeding advice related to your particular situation. The U.S. government does not warrant or assume any liability or responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the information on this Site.