How Long Does Cocaine Stay In Breast Milk?

How long does cocaine stay in breast milk? The answer to this and other questions can shed light on how illicit drugs like cocaine affect maternal health and the health of breastfed infants.

The length of time it takes for cocaine to be eliminated from a nursing mother’s body varies depending on the amount of the drug, but it can remain in breast milk for one to four days.

Cocaine enters breast milk quickly and its concentration is higher in milk than in blood. Some healthcare providers recommend waiting at least 24 hours after last use before breastfeeding.

It is essential to understand how long cocaine stays in breast milk in order to protect an infant’s health in case their mother is dependent on cocaine or in recovery from cocaine addiction.

Cocaine has a variety of harmful effects on maternal health, all of which can also impact the health of a developing child and cause medical complications.

How Cocaine Affects Women’s Health

Scientific studies indicate that women are biologically more sensitive to cocaine’s side effects than men, and have different neurological, metabolic, and hormonal responses to stimulant abuse.

These differences increase women’s risk factors for cocaine addiction and relapse, suggesting that women may respond more effectively to certain harm reduction and treatment methods.

Data on maternal cocaine use in the U.S. found that the majority of women who abuse cocaine are of childbearing age, and about 5% to 10% of pregnant women abuse cocaine in North America.

Neurological Effects Of Cocaine

Changes in hormone levels impact cocaine’s effects on the female brain according to new data released by the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Research indicates that when estrogen levels increase during menstrual cycles, cocaine’s effects on dopamine are even more potent, causing higher dopamine build-up in the brain.

Women also experience more intense cravings for cocaine, due to decreased neural activity in parts of the brain that control impulses, mood regulation, and certain emotional responses.

The parts of the brain where cocaine has the most impact are the following:

  • the amygdala: controls sexual behaviors and fear-related emotions
  • the insula: influences pain and threat perception, anxiety, cognition, and mood
  • the orbitofrontal cortex: controls the ability to make choices and decisions
  • the ventral cingulate cortex: affects empathy, emotions, and impulse control

During ovulation, women experience less fear and lower inhibitions, which can cause them to have less impulse control and to use cocaine more frequently, despite the consequences.

Physical Effects Of Cocaine

Female hormones also affect the metabolism and absorption rate of cocaine, which affects how long cocaine stays in your system.

During the luteal phase of menstruation, females secrete more nasal mucus, which inhibits cocaine absorption.

Women with a decreased sensitivity to cocaine may use more of it to achieve the same effects during their menstrual cycles. They may also have more difficulty abstaining from use.

Other physical side effects of cocaine that increase stress on female reproductive health include:

How Cocaine Affects Pregnancy

Pregnant women need extra nutrition and rest to maintain maternal and infant health. Nutritional deficiency and sleep deprivation impede a mother’s ability to nourish and care for her baby.

Cocaine increases overall mental and physical stress, which pregnant and nursing mothers are extremely sensitive to. It also increases the risk of cocaine exposure in breastfeeding infants.

Prenatal Effects Of Cocaine

The fetus absorbs whatever is in the mother’s body through bodily fluids. Babies in utero are extremely sensitive to anything that has a toxic effect on their health and development.

The presence of cocaine in a mother’s system also causes stress to hormonal health and balance. Physical and emotional stress affects the fetus and can cause birth complications.

Postpartum Effects Of Cocaine

Because of how cocaine adversely affects mental health, women who use cocaine are at higher risk of experiencing postpartum depression and other mood disorders.

Cocaine causes sleep deprivation and restlessness, followed by cocaine withdrawal and energy crashes. This impacts the emotional and physical stamina a woman needs to tend to her infant.

Breastfeeding mothers need adequate nutrition to maintain their health. Cocaine suppresses appetite and can inhibit the absorption of essential nutrients to produce healthy human milk.

How Cocaine Affects Lactation And Breastfeeding

While the American Academy of Pediatrics generally encourages breastfeeding, mothers who actively use cocaine are discouraged to breastfeed due to the secretion of cocaine in their milk.

The milk-plasma ratio of cocaine (and other stimulants such as methamphetamines) is high, although the oral bioavailability of cocaine in breast milk is relatively low.

Even low levels of cocaine passed through breast milk are toxic and potentially fatal to newborn infants.

Potential complications for infants include:

  • seizures
  • hypertension
  • extreme irritability
  • severe nausea
  • severe vomiting
  • respiratory distress

Length Of Time Between Cocaine Use And Consuming Breast Milk

Neonates (infants less than 28 days old) lack the enzyme necessary to metabolize the minute quantities of cocaine and its metabolites found in breast milk.

The elimination half-life of cocaine is one hour. It is generally recommended that breast milk be pumped and discarded within 24 hours of cocaine use, and formula be used in the interim.

Protecting Mothers And Infants From Cocaine-Related Issues

The toxicity of cocaine exposure to breastfeeding infants varies depending on a number of factors and can be difficult to calculate accurately due to ethical limitations on research.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) has developed clinical protocols as guidelines for healthcare standards for breastfeeding infants and mothers with substance use disorders.

These protocols are designed to protect mothers’ rights to prenatal care choices. They also implement harm reduction strategies to protect infant health from maternal cocaine use.

Getting Treatment For Cocaine Addiction While Pregnant And Parenting

Breastfeeding for the first six months of life is recommended by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics, including for women with substance use disorders.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that mothers with substance use disorders receive treatment and counseling services to sustain abstinence and prevent relapse.

Mothers who are undergoing methadone maintenance treatment for cocaine addiction can safely breastfeed their infants, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Pupco, Dr. Cressman, and Dr. Koren are members of the Motherisk Program, which advocates that women who have abused cocaine should still consider breastfeeding.

They further suggest that healthcare providers should educate pregnant and nursing women on the risks of cocaine exposure during breastfeeding so that they can make informed decisions.

Find Cocaine Addiction Treatment In Massachusetts

The use of cocaine can cause a number of adverse effects on a mother’s body. Cocaine addiction requires professional substance abuse treatment for successful recovery.

You can support a loved one who may be addicted to cocaine by helping them find an addiction treatment program that can provide proper levels of addiction care and specialized services.

Call the helpline at Spring Hill Recovery Center today to learn more about treatment options and recommended approaches for long-term recovery from cocaine addiction.

  1. Brain & Behavior Research Foundation – Cocaine’s Effects Are Most Potent When Estrogen Levels Are High
  2. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology – Cocaine Abuse During Pregnancy
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – What are the effects of maternal cocaine use
  4. National Library of Medicine – Cocaine - Drugs and Lactation Database
  5. ScienceDirect – Prenatal Cocaine Exposure: an overview
  6. VeryWell Mind – Dangers of Drug Use When Breastfeeding
  7. VeryWell Mind – How Cocaine Affects the Female Brain Differently
  8. WebMD – What Are The Effects of Using Crack or Cocaine During Pregnancy?

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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