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Breastfeeding is known to increase an infant’s lifespan, enhance lifelong cognitive function, and bolster resistance to sickness and disease. However, while breastfeeding comes with a number of well-documented, scientifically proven benefits, it can be dangerous for infants whose mothers consume certain substances — including cocaine.

Cocaine is a highly addictive, fast-acting stimulant that produces intense bursts of euphoria. While the effects of the substance may be pleasurable in the short-term, long-term use comes with a broad range of consequences. Over time, the substance ravages reward pathways in the brain, making it difficult to regulate stress or feel positive emotions. Increased tolerance also comes with regular use, which raises the risk of panic attacks, paranoia, psychosis and overdose. While these effects can be devastating to individuals, they’re even more detrimental to newborns whose mothers use cocaine while breastfeeding.

If you plan to breastfeed, it’s important to be aware of the risks that certain substances, including cocaine, will pose to your newborn. A great deal of what a mother consumes or ingests while she’s breastfeeding will pass through to her baby through her breast milk — including illicit drugs like cocaine. By learning more about the dangers of using cocaine while breastfeeding and seeking professional care if necessary, you can make life better for both you and your child.

While the high that people experience from cocaine use is relatively short, the drug can linger in breast milk for a significant amount of time. According to the book Counseling the Nursing Mother, after a mother uses cocaine, larger amounts of the substance are present in her breast milk than in her blood, so it is never safe to use cocaine while breastfeeding.

Babies bodies are extremely sensitive to cocaine. In fact, trace amounts of the drug can be found in an infant’s urine for longer than one week after they ingest it through their mother’s breast milk. To help lower the risk that infants will be exposed to cocaine through breast milk, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine suggests that women who have abused cocaine should not breastfeed unless they have a negative maternal urine toxicology at the time of delivery and have been abstinent for at least 90 days.

They also recommend that mothers enroll in a substance abuse treatment program, like those offered at The Recovery Village, before breastfeeding. While breastfeeding does benefit infants in numerous ways, feeding a child baby formula is significantly safer and better for their long-term health than risking cocaine exposure.

Taking Cocaine While Breastfeeding: What You Need to Know

The amount of time that cocaine stays in your system can vary depending on a wide range of factors, including the amount ingested, individual body chemistry, and length of use. Length of use is particularly important, because with increased use comes the increased risk that cocaine will enter body’s tissues, causing the drug to linger in the body for longer.

Typically, levels of cocaine in the blood peak within 30 minutes after it is initially ingested. Approximately one hour later, half of the cocaine originally ingested leaves the body. The remaining cocaine can take significantly longer to dissipate. On average, cocaine is detectable in a person’s urine for two to four days after initial use. For those who use cocaine on a regular basis, the drug may be detectable in urine for up to 12 days. Particularly large doses have been known to stay in the body for up to three weeks.

What this means for breastfeeding mothers is that cocaine stays in the body long after its initial effects wear off. While the length of time that cocaine stays present in breast milk after ingestion isn’t certain, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine suggests that women who previously abused cocaine do not breastfeed until they’ve been abstinent for at least 90 days.

Any mother who breastfeeds should not use cocaine under any circumstances. Even trace amounts of the drug can have both short and long-term consequences on infant health. Some of these side effects can even be life threatening.

While the effect that cocaine has on infants hasn’t been studied extensively, some observed side effects include:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Hypertension
  • Tachycardia
  • Seizures
  • Overdose

While cocaine use while breastfeeding can significantly harm infants, it can also impact the quality of a mother’s breast milk. Long-term cocaine use has been shown to result in chronic, low-level hyperprolactinemia.

Cocaine poses a broad range of risks to health and happiness for anyone who uses it. However, once someone becomes addicted to the drug, discontinuing use can be extremely difficult. Because cocaine is both physically addictive, people who use the substance over long periods of time experience harrowing withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop. This can make it hard for anyone to quit, but particularly challenging for mothers experiencing the stresses and difficulties that inherently come with being a new parent.

However, because of the life threatening risks that cocaine poses to infants, any mother who wants to breastfeed must stop using cocaine. This is the only way to guarantee that none of the drug will pass to their child. The best option for new mothers is to either formula feed or breastfeed after completing a drug rehabilitation program.

Cocaine addiction is a disease, but recovery is possible. If you struggle with cocaine addiction, know that you have options. Treatment at a rehabilitation center like The Recovery Village can help you detox safely, work through the underlying issues that drive your addiction, and teach you the coping skills you need to continue recovery for life.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Your child needs you. Reach out to a representative today for more information, or to get started. Same-day admission options are available, and there’s no obligation to begin treatment when you call.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.