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The Dangers of Abusing Xanax (Alprazolam) While Breastfeeding

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

April 2, 2019

Xanax abuse can pose serious health risks for women and their newborns while breastfeeding. Women who abuse Xanax (alprazolam) may need treatment to help them overcome their substance abuse and should avoid breastfeeding.

Many drugs and substances can be harmful during stages of pregnancy and breastfeeding, and are therefore not recommended for use. This includes some antidepressant medications and benzodiazepines such as Xanax (alprazolam).

Mothers who use Xanax can have small amounts of the drug cross into their breast milk. This can result in a newborn consuming small amounts of the drug through breastfeeding. This can cause newborns to experience symptoms of drowsiness, agitation, and other side effects. If you stopped using Xanax during pregnancy, it is safest to continue avoiding use while breastfeeding to prevent health complications.

Women who abuse or are addicted to Xanax should avoid breastfeeding, and tell their doctor about their addiction as soon as they know they are pregnant. Doctors may recommend entering inpatient treatment for Xanax abuse to avoid health risks during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax (alprazolam) is an anti-anxiety prescription medication within the benzodiazepine drug class. It is a common drug prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders.

Benzodiazepines (‘benzos’) are known for their high addiction potential, and Xanax has one of the highest risks due to its fast-acting properties and unique chemical makeup. Xanax is one of the most frequently prescribed benzos, and may be abused by people with or without a prescription.

Can You Take Xanax While Breastfeeding?

It is not recommended that women who are breastfeeding use Xanax, as it can transfer to the breast milk and pose potential harm to a newborn.

Prescription drugs like alprazolam are classified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into categories that determine their safety for use during pregnancy and nursing periods. Drugs in category A are the safest drugs to use while breastfeeding, while drugs in category D (which includes Xanax) have a risk for harmful effects on infant health.

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In some cases, doctors may still approve small doses of Xanax while a mother is breastfeeding, though this does not come without risk. Women who take Xanax may secrete traces of the drug in their breast milk, which can cause enhanced side effects in a newborn due to increased drug sensitivity.

Breast milk that contains traces of Xanax may also pose more serious dangers to newborns, including addiction and symptoms of drug withdrawal.

Dangers Of Abusing Xanax While Breastfeeding

The many side effects of Xanax abuse can be dangerous for people who repeatedly abuse the drug, which includes postpartum women.

Common side effects of Xanax abuse include:

  • excessive drowsiness
  • memory problems
  • difficulty concentrating
  • sluggishness
  • nausea
  • headache
  • confusion

These mental and physical effects of drug abuse can be dangerous for mothers that are the primary carer of their baby. Continued abuse of Xanax by mothers who have little support from a partner or family members in taking care of their newborn may put themselves and their baby at risk.

Effects Of Xanax On Newborns

Newborns that are exposed to Xanax through breast milk may be at risk for experiencing certain drug side effects.

These effects include:

  • drowsiness or excessive sleepiness
  • increased irritability
  • sleep disturbances
  • weight loss (due to increased stress)

Xanax can also cause increased levels of prolactin in the body of the mother. This can cause increased breast milk production, as well as a decrease in the hormone progesterone, which plays a role in the menstrual cycle and mood.

Dangers For Premature Babies

All newborns may be susceptible to negative side effects associated with maternal Xanax abuse. However, these health risks may be increased for babies that are born with additional health concerns or are born prematurely.

One of the side effects that can occur in newborns that are breastfed Xanax-containing milk is weight loss. This is a general side effect cautioned with Xanax abuse, and may affect the mother as well as the infant. This effect is often related to increased levels of stress and agitation that can occur with repeated Xanax abuse, as well as withdrawal.

Newborns that are already born low-weight may face particular danger with this side effect, as it can hinder their physical growth. Premature newborns may also be more fragile than other babies during the breastfeeding period, and be more vulnerable to harm posed by exposure to drugs.

Xanax Withdrawal During Breastfeeding

Mothers who take a single dose of Xanax may not be putting their newborn at significant risk for dangerous effects. Repeated use of Xanax, however, may cause newborns that are breastfed Xanax-containing milk to become dependent on the substance. This is also a risk of taking Xanax while pregnant.

Newborns that have become addicted to Xanax through breastfeeding may experience withdrawal symptoms after they have stopped drinking the breast milk.

These withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • excessive or random bouts of crying
  • increased irritability
  • difficulty sleeping
  • anxiety

Life-threatening consequences are not common, but babies who ingest high doses of Xanax through breast milk may be at risk for slowed or abnormal breathing.

Xanax Abuse And Addiction

Xanax is most commonly abused for its ability to produce a rapid calming sensation and sedative effect, which can occur within minutes after use. People who abuse Xanax may quickly build a tolerance to the drug, requiring higher doses in order to feel the same drug effects. This can be dangerous, as it can lead to overdose or slow breathing rates.

People often abuse sedating substances like Xanax to help them cope with stress. Women who are pregnant or have recently delivered a baby may be under significant stress related to new motherhood and other personal factors.

Addiction to substances like Xanax is a serious problem that can cause physical and emotional harm. Women who are experiencing severe anxiety or postpartum depression may be able to receive treatments alternative to Xanax to help them cope with emotional difficulties.

Inpatient treatment may also be needed for those that have become dependent on Xanax to help them overcome addiction.

Treatment For Xanax Abuse And Addiction

Xanax abuse can have harmful effects on new mothers, as well as newborns exposed to the drug through breast milk. Many new mothers experience high anxiety as they navigate the daily stressors of motherhood, and may experience postpartum depression. These struggles can make a person more vulnerable to abusing drugs that are able to bring any kind of relief, no matter how short-lived.

Women who abuse Xanax should talk to their doctor immediately about their substance abuse if they have recently delivered a baby. Treatment within an inpatient drug rehab program may be needed for people who have become dependent on Xanax. This can provide patients with alternative treatments for anxiety that may be safe for use during pregnancy, including certain medications and behavioral therapy.

Breastfeeding is a personal choice made by each mother, and some mothers who abuse drugs may not wish to breastfeed their child. Regardless of your decision, getting help for your substance abuse can help create a safe environment for your baby, and give you the strength you need to care for them the best you can.

Contact us to learn more about treatment options for Xanax abuse today.

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Alprazolam, A Review of Alprazolam Use, Misuse, and Withdrawal

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