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The Dangers Of Using Cocaine While Breastfeeding

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

Medically reviewed by

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

April 2, 2019

Breastfeeding can be unsafe for women using cocaine, and pose life-threatening consequences to the health of an infant. At least 90 days of abstinence from cocaine is recommended prior to delivery for women who wish to breastfeed their child due to safety concerns.

Breastfeeding can have several benefits for newborns, including protection against certain diseases and increased cognitive function. Certain substances, however, can be dangerous for an infant to ingest. This includes powerful drugs like cocaine which can be transferred to breast milk when used by the mother.

Is It Safe To Breastfeed While Using Cocaine?

Research shows that varying amounts of cocaine may be found in the breast milk of women who use the drug. This includes the smoking of crack cocaine, injection, snorting, oral, and topical application.

Hard drug use can have life-threatening consequences for infants, whose bodies are sensitive to cocaine and other harmful substances. Maternal use of cocaine may also pose serious long-term harm to newborns with repeated exposure.

Women who are addicted to cocaine but wish to breastfeed should receive treatment within a drug rehab program before attempting to breastfeed their child. Treatment for cocaine addiction can be protective for infants, and be beneficial in helping mothers overcome the mental and physical consequences of substance abuse.

Dangers Of Cocaine Use While Breastfeeding

It is important to be aware of the risks of breastfeeding infants while using cocaine. Many mothers may have difficulty accessing resources for cocaine treatment depending on location, financial barriers, and other personal factors.

Women that are worried about exposing their infant to cocaine-containing breast milk are encouraged to contact our treatment specialists for information about treatment options.

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Cocaine Can Transfer To Breast Milk

Research on cocaine use in nursing mothers has shown that cocaine use can lead to amounts of drug transferring to breast milk. Cocaine may even be found in higher concentrations in the breast milk of nursing mothers than in the blood.

Breast milk that contains cocaine can pose serious health risks to newborn infants with the potential for life-threatening consequences. The amount of cocaine consumed by infants through breastfeeding can vary depending on factors related to the mother’s drug use. Even small traces of cocaine, however, can have a noticeable impact on infants due to newborns’ increased sensitivity.

Babies that are fed cocaine-containing milk may show concentrations of cocaine in their blood and have detectable traces in urine for more than a week. During this time, infants may display abnormal symptoms that can indicate serious danger to their health.

The short-term symptoms in infants who are breastfed cocaine-containing milk include:

  • high-pitched crying
  • irritability
  • dilated pupils
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • tremors
  • increased heart and breathing rates

Cocaine-containing milk can also put infants at risk for overdose or life-threatening seizures.

Danger Of Topical Application

The most common ways of using cocaine include smoking, injection, snorting, and rubbing cocaine powder into the gums. However, in some cases, mothers may also abuse cocaine by rubbing cocaine on the nipples in an effort to numb or relieve pain.

This topical application of cocaine can be dangerous to the mother and the infant that comes in contact with the nipple. Mothers who apply cocaine this way may risk suffering convulsions, and infants can be at risk for symptoms of:

  • rapid heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • agitation
  • seizures
  • hypothermia
  • shallow breathing

It is also unsafe to smoke crack cocaine around newborn infants. Infants may be at risk for inhaling the smoke and suffering harmful effects. Due to this, it is important that newborns are shielded from cocaine smoked by the mother or any others in the household.

Impact On Ability to Breastfeed

Long-term use of cocaine has shown to have potential effects on a woman’s ability to breastfeed. The impact of chronic cocaine use on the body can make it more difficult for the body to produce breast milk by causing chronic, low levels of prolactin — an amino acid protein that plays a role in lactation.

How Long Does Cocaine Stay In The Body?

Although the effects of cocaine may be short-lived, concentrations of the drug can still remain in the body and transfer to breast milk for some time. The amount of time cocaine remains in a person’s body depends on several factors, including the amount used and how long they have been using cocaine. Frequent and long-term use of cocaine may cause traces of the drug to remain in the body for an extended period of time.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine advises that women be at least 90 days abstinent from cocaine prior to delivery before choosing to breastfeed. The Academy also recommends that mothers with a history of cocaine use undergo ongoing treatment for their addiction. Treatment for cocaine addiction most often begins in an inpatient program, where the mother may detox from cocaine and receive additional treatment to help her remain sober.

Additional breastfeeding recommendations for women with a history of cocaine use include:

  • engaging in and complying with recommended prenatal care to gauge safety of breastfeeding
  • receiving ongoing substance abuse treatment after delivery of the baby
  • having the approval of medical specialists who are aware of the cocaine use
  • carefully weighing any additional pros and potential cons of breastfeeding, including preferences of the mother

The decision to breastfeed a child is a very personal choice, and might be even more difficult for women with a history of substance abuse. While breastfeeding can have numerous benefits for both maternal and infant health, new motherhood and the decisions that come with it can be stressful. Stress can play a major role in drug abuse, triggering a relapse or making it more difficult for a person to stop using a drug.

Remaining abstinent from cocaine is important for the health of a new mother and her child. If a woman is still using cocaine while breastfeeding, the clinical recommendation is to wait at least 24 hours after use before attempting to breastfeed. This does not protect an infant from harm, but may allow for more of the drug to leave the mother’s body.

The best way to keep an infant and the mother safe while breastfeeding is for the mother to enter a medical detox program to stop using cocaine altogether.

Get Help For Your Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction can have a serious impact on both maternal and infant health while breastfeeding. Infants exposed to cocaine may be at serious risk for long-term harm impacting their development and ability to fight off disease. This is in addition to other serious short term effects that can, in some cases, be life-threatening.

Addiction is a difficult problem to overcome alone, and might be even more challenging alongside the stress of parenting a newborn. The most effective way to receive proper help for cocaine abuse is to seek inpatient rehabilitation. Inpatient care can provide you with professional support and structure to overcome your drug use, and help you find the stability needed to take care of yourself and your infant.

You deserve a life free from your cocaine use, and we can help you get started. For more information on cocaine addiction treatment, contact one of our specialists today.

National Institutes of Health: U.S. National Library of Medicine - Maternal cocaine use during breastfeeding

National Institutes of Health: Toxicology Data Network - LACTMED: COCAINE

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