Rehab 4 Addiction

The Effects of Using Cocaine While Breastfeeding

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug, with effects on the nervous system. It can be inhaled, injected or smoked, all with damaging side effects.

When you’re pregnant, you transfer nutrients to your baby through the placenta. That being said, all substances you ingest can transfer too.

Cocaine crosses the placenta, and via the amniotic fluid it enters your baby. [1]

Cocaine can cause the placenta to pull away from the uterus, even before you go into labour.

This can lead to heavy bleeding for the mother and could be fatal for both persons involved.

Drugs can increase the likelihood of delivering before 37 weeks, also known as preterm delivery. Babies born too early are liable to:

  • Health problems such as breathing and vision
  • Learning delays
  • Slower growth rate
  • Language difficulties
  • Problems with behaviour and control

If you don’t miscarry, cocaine can be found in the new-borns who were exposed, in their:

  • Hair
  • Umbilical cord
  • Urine
  • Meconium (stool)

Being pregnant means you process drugs slowly, putting your organs under stress for longer.

This also means that cocaine stays in your baby’s body for longer.

Babies exposed to cocaine during pregnancy tend to be smaller than average, and are liable to abnormalities of the:

  • Brain and skull
  • Face
  • Major organs
  • Limbs

Following birth, if you don’t stop using during pregnancy, your baby can go through withdrawal.

Symptoms such as tremors and trouble sleeping may start 1-2 days after birth. These can get worse and last 8-10 weeks after birth.

Does Cocaine Transfer to Breastmilk?

Breastfeeding whilst using is not recommended, and is usually frowned upon.

Drugs like cocaine in any form can pass into the breastmilk, commonly known to cause seizures, this can be very damaging to your baby.

Here are some tips:

  • If you are using, do NOT breastfeed.
  • Do not let others use cocaine around your baby, second-hand smoke can cause similar symptoms as first-hand using.
  • If you insist on breastfeeding, discard your pumped milk at least 36 hours after using
  • Do not let people use cocaine around your baby. Second-hand smoke from freebased cocaine can cause the same symptoms in your baby as it does in the user. [2]

Cocaine-Breastfed Infants

Much of what mothers ingest during pregnancy and breastfeeding is passed onto the baby. It is vital for the mother to watch what they consume.

Much of what the mother takes during breastfeeding passes on to the baby. It is thus vital for breastfeeding mothers to watch what they consume.

Not only will breastfeeding whilst using damage the nervous system on the baby, but it can also affect different aspects for the mother:

  • Senses
  • Judgement
  • Perception

This can be detrimental to the care of the baby, leading to accidents and injury.

There is a guideline for breastfeeding and drug-dependant women from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.[3]

In order to breastfeed, a mother should follow these criteria:

  • Abstain from illicit drugs for 90 days prior to delivery
  • Have a negative drug screen at delivery
  • Be willing to participate in substance abuse treatment
  • Should not have any other factor that would present breastfeeding difficulties such as HIV etc.
  • Receive constant and adequate prenatal care

The National Institute on Drug Abuse stated that there are around 750,000 cocaine-exposed pregnancies every year. [4]

This number might be significantly less than that of reality, due to the worry of losing custody of children.

The study states that children exposed to cocaine through breastfeeding and pregnancy are predisposed to being underdeveloped.

The main issues are cognitive; there are deficits in performance and information processing, leading to a poorer quality of life than usual.

Brain scans have concluded that the function of exposed children in the areas differs from that of non-exposed children:

  1. Attention
  2. Planning
  3. Language

When these children grow up, they are likely to be influenced by family or peers that also use. This means they are more likely to start using and become dependent.

Benefits of Breast Feeding

It’s always good to think about how you’re going to feed your child, from breastfeeding to formula.

The benefits of breastfeeding:

  • Its milk designed for your baby
  • The milk protects the baby from disease and infection
  • It provides health benefits for the mother
  • Its readily available and FREE
  • Its aids the bond between parent and child

There are long-term benefits for the baby, reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease, infection, and adult obesity. [5]

Studies have also emphasised that if the mother breastfeeds for at least 26 weeks, 6 months, then it reduces the chance of childhood leukaemia.

A baby is breast-fed or bottle-fed for the first 6 months of its life, so being a part of feeding can drastically help bond.

Breast milk also adapts as you and the child are changing. Breastfeeding has health benefits for the mother, lowering the risk of:

  • Breast and ovarian cancer
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity

Prevention Care

If you use drugs and want to get pregnant and breastfeed, we advise you to stop using. This can be difficult on your own, so we have drug treatment plans in place to help you.

Addressing your drug use can increase the quality of life for you and your baby.

Knowingly giving your child issues with development and health as a result of your habits is less than ethical, so we advise you to get help as soon as you can.

Here are some tips to reduce or stop drug use:

  • Keep a diary of when, where and how much you use
  • Try to spot patterns of abuse
  • Gradually reduce your intake to avoid heavy withdrawal symptoms
  • Take your time, it isn’t easy
  • Distract yourself from cravings
  • Cut out toxic people and habits
  • Call us for a free consultation

Always remind yourself that you are not alone. There are many mothers that struggle with substance abuse.

However, you are now not just impacting your own health, you are responsible for the health of your child.

Birthing and raising a baby is one of nature’s sweet moments, and doing your part in helping that process is your responsibility.

If you are worried about use or want to detox before a planned pregnancy, give us a call to hear about our treatment programmes.





Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.