Mercaptopurine use while Breastfeeding
Drugs containing Mercaptopurine: Purinethol, Purixan
Mercaptopurine Levels and Effects while Breastfeeding
Summary of Use during Lactation
Most sources consider breastfeeding to be contraindicated during maternal antineoplastic drug therapy, although antimetabolites such as mercaptopurine appear to pose the least risk to breastfed infants. After high-dose chemotherapy, it might be possible to breastfeed safely during intermittent therapy with an appropriate period of breastfeeding abstinence. Although no data are available to determine an appropriate period to withhold breastfeeding, the drug's terminal half-life suggests that withholding breastfeeding for 1 to 2 days may be sufficient. Chemotherapy may adversely affect the normal microbiome and chemical makeup of breastmilk.
In the treatment of conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, low doses of mercaptopurine (6-MP) for immunosuppression appear to be acceptable. No active metabolites of mercaptopurine were found in the blood of breastfed infants whose mothers were taking azathioprine and no adverse effects attributable to mercaptopurine or azathioprine have been noted. See the Azathioprine record for details. Mothers with decreased activity of the enzyme that detoxifies mercaptopurine metabolites may transmit higher levels of drug to their infants in breastmilk. It might be desirable to monitor exclusively breastfed infants with a complete blood count with differential, and liver function tests if mercaptopurine is used during lactation, although some authors feel that monitoring is unnecessary.
Mercaptopurine is the active metabolite of azathioprine. It is further metabolized to active metabolites including 6-methylmercaptopurine, thioguanine, 6-thioguanine nucleosides (6-TGNs) and 6-methylmercaptopurine nucleosides (6-MMPN). 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, peak milk 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, a peak milk level of 18 mcg/L occurred 2 hours after a 25 mg oral dose. 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-thioguanine nucleosides (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).
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.
Effects in Breastfed Infants
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.
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.
A national survey of gastroenterologists in Australia identified 21 infants who were breastfed by mothers taking a combination of allopurinol and a thiopurine (e.g. azathioprine, mercaptopurine) to treat inflammatory bowel disease. All had taked the combination during pregnancy also. Two postpartum infant deaths occurred, both at 3 months of age. One was a twin (premature birth-related) and the other from SIDS. The authors did not believe the deaths were medication related. No information was provided on the extent of breastfeeding, specific thiopurines, drug dosages or the outcomes of the other infants.
Effects on Lactation and Breastmilk
Relevant published information was not found as of the revision date.
Alternate Drugs to Consider
1. Pistilli B, Bellettini G, Giovannetti E et al. Chemotherapy, targeted agents, antiemetics and growth-factors in human milk: How should we counsel cancer patients about breastfeeding? Cancer Treat Rev. 2013;39:207-11. PMID: 23199900
2. Urbaniak C, McMillan A, Angelini M et al. Effect of chemotherapy on the microbiota and metabolome of human milk, a case report. Microbiome. 2014;2:24. PMID: 25061513
3. Ha C, Dassopoulos T. Thiopurine therapy in inflammatory bowel disease. Expert Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010;4:575-88. PMID: 20932143
4. Van Assche G, Dignass A, Reinisch W et al. The second European evidence-based Consensus on the diagnosis and management of Crohn's disease: Special situations. J Crohns Colitis. 2010;4:63-101. PMID: 21122490
5. Nielsen OH, Maxwell C, Hendel J. IBD medications during pregnancy and lactation. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014;11:116-27. PMID: 23897285
6. Mahadevan U, Matro R. Care of the pregnant patient with inflammatory bowel disease. Obstet Gynecol. 2015;126:401-12. PMID: 26241432
7. Nguyen GC, Seow CH, Maxwell C et al. The Toronto Consensus Statements for the Management of IBD in Pregnancy. Gastroenterology. 2016;150:734-57. PMID: 26688268
8. van der Woude CJ, Ardizzone S, Bengtson MB et al. The second European evidenced-based consensus on reproduction and pregnancy in inflammatory bowel disease. J Crohns Colitis. 2015;9:107-24. PMID: 25602023
9. Christensen LA, Dahlerup JF, Nielsen MJ et al. Azathioprine treatment during lactation: authors' reply. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2009;30:91. PMID: 19566905
10. Coulam CB, Moyer TP, Jiang NS et al. Breast-feeding after renal transplantation. Transplant Proc. 1982;13:605-9. PMID: 6817481
11. 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
12. Gardiner SJ, Gearry RB, Roberts RL, Zhang M, Barclay ML, Begg EJ. 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. 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
14. 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.
15. Beswick L, Shukla D, Friedman AB et al. National audit: Assessing the use and safety of allopurinol thiopurine co-therapy in pregnant females with inflammatory bowel disease. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2016;31 (Suppl 2):128-9. Abstract. DOI: doi:10.1111/jgh.13521
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.
More about mercaptopurine
- Side Effects
- During Pregnancy or Breastfeeding
- Dosage Information
- Drug Images
- Drug Interactions
- Support Group
- Pricing & Coupons
- En Español
- 16 Reviews – Add your own review/rating
- Drug class: antimetabolites