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Using Cocaine While Breastfeeding

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Cocaine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that is easily absorbed into the blood stream. It has a high milk to plasma ratio, meaning it a significant amount of the drug may pass from a mother’s blood into breast milk 1.

Cocaine is the third most commonly abused substance in the United States. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 1.9 million Americans aged 12 or older were current users of cocaine, including 394,000 current users of crack cocaine. Among pregnant women, 4.7% reported using illicit drugs while pregnant in the past month 2. One study estimates that there are roughly 750,000 cocaine-exposed pregnancies every year 3.

Does Cocaine Transfer to Breastmilk?

Yes. Cocaine may transfer to breast milk. For mothers who use cocaine, the concentration of the drug will likely be higher in her milk than in her blood 1.The “high” people get after using cocaine is relatively short, but it takes the body a long time to metabolize the drug and get it out of the system 1. This means that long after a mother stops feeling the effects of cocaine, it may still be in her breast milk and may still negatively affect her breastfeeding infant. In fact, newborn babies are extremely sensitive to cocaine. Traces of cocaine can be found in infants’ urine for over 1 week 1.

Under some circumstances, mothers who have used cocaine in the past (and aren’t actively using now) may safely breastfeed their child. However, according to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, these women with a history of cocaine use should not breastfeed unless 4:

  • They test negative on urine tests for cocaine at delivery.
  • They have been abstinent from cocaine for at least 90 days prior to delivery.
  • Are in a substance treatment program.
  • Plan to continue treatment in the postpartum period.
  • Have the approval of their substance abuse counselor.
  • Have engaged in and are compliant in prenatal care.
  • Have no other contraindications to breastfeeding.

Women who are nursing their child should not use cocaine or crack. It is advised that no one near the baby use crack. Infants can be exposed to the drug by inhaling the smoke.

If you are abusing cocaine while breastfeeding, you may benefit from entering a drug treatment program. Give us a call today at to speak to one of our rehab placement specialists.

Does Cocaine-Laden Breastmilk Harm the Baby?

Feeding an infant cocaine-containing milk can be dangerous to a baby’s health. Cocaine’s powerful stimulant properties can easily overwhelm a baby’s body. Several studies have noted the adverse effects of using cocaine on a breastfeeding infant, including 6:

  • Changes in mood.
  • Irritability.
  • High-pitched crying.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Hyperactive reflexes.
  • Hypertension.

Other harmful effects have been reported in infants who ingested cocaine after the mother applied it to her nipples to relieve pain. This is a dangerous practice and should not be used as a remedy for sore, cracked nipples. Applying cocaine directly to the nipple has been shown to have harmful effects on a child, including 6:

  • Irritability.
  • Agitation.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Shallow breathing.
  • Hypertension.
  • Seizures.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cocaine should not be used by breastfeeding mothers. Mothers who choose to breastfeed and who use cocaine intermittently should delay breastfeeding for at least 24 hours after use 5. The best way to stay safe, however, is to stop using cocaine altogether. See “Addicted to Cocaine?” below for information on treatment, or call to learn about getting help for cocaine addiction

Benefits of Breastfeeding

doctor checking on baby's health

Using cocaine for a long period of time can affect a mother’s ability to breastfeed, and mothers who use cocaine are more likely to not breastfeed compared to non-using mothers 6.

Long-term cocaine use can cause problems with the body’s production of breast milk. Given the many benefits of breastfeeding to the baby and even to the mother, this can be distressing to new mothers.

A mother’s breast milk is the ideal, renewable source of food for newborns and infants. Breast milk contains the perfect balance of nutrients to meet a baby’s needs. Additionally, It contains antibodies that protect the newborns from illness such as diarrhea, pneumonia, and other common childhood illnesses and infections 7,8.

Breastfeeding may also have long-term benefits for the child. Some studies suggest that people who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese or to have type 2 diabetes. Research also indicates they perform better in intelligence tests 8.

Additionally, breastfeeding provides a mother with a unique opportunity to connect with their child. Breastfeeding may improve mother-child bonding. During breastfeeding, the mother’s body releases increased levels oxytocin (the love hormone). The release of oxytocin is associated with affectionate contact and maternal-infant bonding 1. Further, breastfeeding has been shown to improve maternal health by reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and breast and ovarian cancers 5. When a mother does not breastfeed or stops breastfeeding early, she may be at an increased risk for experiencing postpartum depression 9.

It is important to keep in mind that every person is different. Some mothers choose not to breastfeed, do not feel comfortable breastfeeding, or cannot breastfeed—and that is okay. What is most important is that the child receives the love and care that they deserve.

5 Ways Quitting Benefits Your Baby

  1. You will feel healthier and stronger.
  2. By quitting your cocaine use, you are prioritizing your child and ensuring that they grow up in a safe and drug-free environment.
  3. You have the opportunity to set an example for your child.
  4. Quitting reduces the risk that you will encounter job loss, legal, or financial problems.
  5. You will be able to safely breastfeed, providing all the benefits of doing so to your child (and yourself).

Addicted to Cocaine?

If you find yourself unable to stop using cocaine, you may be struggling with a cocaine addiction (or cocaine use disorder). A component of many addictive processes is what’s known as physiologic dependence. Those who develop a cocaine dependence may feel like they need to continue taking the drug in order to function properly. If you think you have an addiction or dependency to cocaine, is important that you talk to your doctor. They may offer addiction counseling options and may recommend that you enter into a drug treatment program.

Addiction treatment can help you identify the underlying cause of your cocaine use and help you take steps to becoming drug-free. There are several options when it comes to treatment, and it is important that you find the one that best fits your needs.

  • Residential treatment provides 24/7 medical care and support, generally in non-hospital settings. If your addiction is relatively severe, this is an excellent option. You will live at the treatment center and, depending on the program, your treatment could last 30 to 90 days (or longer). Standard treatment regimens will include individual and group behavioral therapy. Some residential programs may offer complementary therapeutic interventions and other health and wellness activities such as art therapy, yoga and meditation, exercise programs, and specialized nutrition programs.
  • Hospital-based inpatient treatment provides intensive but relatively short treatment. Many hospital-based treatment programs are rooted in the 12-step approach to substance recovery. These programs generally consist of 3 to 6 weeks of hospital-based inpatient treatment followed by a duration of ongoing outpatient therapy to prevent relapse.
  • Outpatient treatment programs are designed to help you go through treatment while continuing to live at home. Outpatient options make it easier to tend to everyday responsibilities – such as work, school, and family – while visiting the center a few times a week to seek treatment. Group therapy is a major part of outpatient treatment, and you may meet in weekly support groups with others going through the program.
  • Group therapy is a form of counseling that allows you to interact with other individuals. Groups generally consist of 4-12 members, and they can meet as often as once or twice a week. Groups allow members to share experiences with others and provide support to one another.

The postpartum period presents a window of opportunity for you to take make healthy and life-saving changes that can improve your health as well as your child’s. If you are using cocaine and breastfeeding, make sure to take the cautionary steps to prevent harming your baby. Substance abuse rehabilitation programs have helped many new mothers. Call us today at to speak with a trained treatment placement specialist.

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Lauren worked as a Web Content Writer at Recovery Brands. Before working at Recovery Brand, she served as the Program Director for a community-based HIV/AIDS and cancer non-profit in San Francisco.

Lauren holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University and a Master’s in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley.

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