Epoetin Alfa use while Breastfeeding
Drugs containing Epoetin Alfa: Procrit, Epogen, Retacrit
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Mar 5, 2019.
Epoetin Alfa Levels and Effects while Breastfeeding
Summary of Use during Lactation
The excretion of exogenous epoetin alfa (recombinant human erythropoietin; EPO) in breastmilk has not been studied. Erythropoietin is a normal component of human milk. Although some studies have shown an improve response of postpartum anemia when epoetin alfa was used with iron therapy, current consensus is that epoetin alfa has no clinically important effect on the increase in hemoglobin concentration over iron alone. No adverse reactions were reported in the breastfed infants of mothers who received epoetin alfa. Based on theoretical considerations, the manufacturer recommends avoiding the use of epoetin alfa multiple-dose vials for lactating women because of its benzyl alcohol content and to avoid breastfeeding for 2 weeks after a dose that contains benzyl alcohol. No special precautions are required during breastfeeding if mothers receive epoetin alfa from a single-use vial without preservatives.
Some authors have hypothesized that erythropoietin in milk might help maintain the integrity of the lining of the mammary epithelium and the infant gastrointestinal tract, thereby reducing the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV infection (MTCT). A case-control study in Tanzania supports the protective role of erythropoietin in breastmilk against MTCT. Erythropoietin might also have a modest beneficial effect on the infant's red cell production. Holder pasteurization (62.5 degrees C for 30 minutes) decreases the concentration of endogenous erythropoietin by an average about 75%, with complete degradation in some samples.
A study on Holder pasteurization of breastmilk found that the erythropoietin concentration in breastmilk dropped from about 1.9 international units/L before pasteurization to about 0.5 international units/L after pasteurization.
Maternal Levels. Relevant published information on exogenous administration of epoetin alfa was not found as of the revision date. However, breastmilk normally contains erythropoietin. Erythropoietin concentrations in human milk are in the range of approximately 4 to 5 units/L in the first 1 to 2 months postpartum and increase to 20 to 40 units/L by the third month and to 100 to 150 units/L by 12 months.
Infant Levels. Published information on absorption of epoetin alfa from breastmilk was not found as of the revision date. However, several studies in which oral doses of epoetin alfa and other recombinant forms of erythropoietin were given to preterm infants found that epoetin is absorbed to a small extent. Increases in hematocrit in infants treated with oral epoetin alfa have been small to negligible. However, one study found that hospitalized preterm infants taking enteral feedings and given 400 units daily of recombinant human erythropoietin by mouth with ferrous sulfate had higher reticulocyte counts and serum erythropoietin concentrations upon hospital discharge than control infants given only ferrous sulfate.
Effects in Breastfed Infants
Enhancement of gastrointestinal tract maturation has been proposed as a function of erythropoietin in breastmilk.
In a study of 40 women with postpartum anemia, 19 of 20 women who received iron and subcutaneous recombinant human erythropoietin (generic name and brand not specified) 200 IU/kg daily for 15 days were able to breastfeed their infants. This regimen is more aggressive than the approve three times/week regimen. In the control group that received only oral iron and folic acid, only 10 were able to breastfeed their infants. No adverse reactions were reported among the infants of women who receive epoetin.
Effects on Lactation and Breastmilk
In small studies, epoetin alfa administration decreased serum prolactin in patients with amylotrophic lateral sclerosis, but had no effect in normal subjects or in patients with renal failure undergoing chronic ambulatory peritoneal dialysis. The prolactin level in a mother with established lactation may not affect her ability to breastfeed.
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13. Tokgoz B, Utas C, Dogukan A et al. Influence of long term erythropoietin therapy on the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis in patients undergoing CAPD. Ren Fail. 2002;24:315-23. PMID: 12166698
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Epoetin Alfa Identification
CAS Registry Number
Hematopoietic Cell Growth Factors
LactMed Record Number
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