Social Drugs Breastfeeding Information


Alcohol is actually considered to be “compatible with breastfeeding". The American Academy of Paediatrics states that one drink per day, is okay while breastfeeding. Most mothers decide to stop breastfeeding all together, because of the occasional drink, and this is not necessary.

A glass of wine, will take about 3 hours to leave a mother’s blood stream. A higher alcohol content drink can take up to 13 hours to leave the system.

The Affects on Baby when Mom Drinks Alcohol

  • The baby may consume less milk, because of the taste change in the milk.
  • The baby may fall asleep faster, but wake up more often. 

If the mother drinks more than 2 drinks per day:

  • Her baby may become drowsy.
  • Her baby may sleep deeper than usual.
  • There may be a decrease in growth.
  • Her baby may show abnormal weight gain.
  • Her baby may show poor motor development. 
  • Drinking alcohol can decrease the flow of a mother's milk and may even prevent a "let down" of milk from occurring. 

Caffeine and Breastfeeding

Caffeine is not passed into the breast milk easily, only 0.6 to 1.5% of the amount of caffeine that the mother gets, passes into the milk.

It takes longer for caffeine to leave a newborn or premature baby’s system and some babies are more sensitive to caffeine than others. The effects of caffeine become less as the baby gets older. 

The moderate amount of caffeine that is considered safe is three cups per day. If the mother drinks more than this, she might notice:

  • Her baby becomes irritable.
  • Her baby starts to sleep less.
  • Her baby becomes jittery. 

If you are not sure if it is the caffeine that is causing the issue, you can eliminate coffee from your diet for 3 weeks, to see if the symptoms disappear. 

So how much, is too much, really?

It is not just coffee that contains caffeine, products such as gassy cool drinks, chocolate, tea, energy drinks, some brands of ice cream and even gum contain caffeine. It is advised that a mother does not consume more than 500mg of caffeine per day. You should still watch your baby for signs that the caffeine is affecting him/her.

Read more about caffeine intake while breastfeeding. 

Nicotine (smoking cigarettes) 

Should a mother stop breastfeeding, if she smokes? No! The protection that breast milk offers outweighs the risks of smoking while breastfeeding. Breast milk protects your baby against second hand smoke too. Your baby will have no protection against second hand smoke, if you decide to formula feed him/her. 

There are still risks of smoking while breastfeeding, these include:

  • Fussiness and colic symptoms.
  • A lowered fat level in breast milk.
  • A mother’s milk supply may decrease.
  • A slow let down reflex.
  • An increased risk of SIDS. The baby of a breastfeeding mother who smokes, has the same risk of SIDS as the mother who does not smoke, but gives her baby formula!
  • Increased risk of Acid reflux in a baby. (GERD)

How to minimize these risks:

  • Smoke less: The fewer cigarettes smoked, the less the risk. If you can, Quit smoking entirely
  • Smoke after feedings not before. About an hour and a half after smoking a cigarette, half of the nicotine would have left your body. 
  • Do not smoke near your baby or in a closed room with your baby. Second hand smoke can increase health risks. 
  • If you are using nicotine gum to quit smoking, you should also chew the gum after feedings, not before. 
  • Make sure that your baby is gaining weight well and growing adequately. 

Read more about smoking cigarettes while breastfeeding. 

Other Social Drugs Breastfeeding Info

  • Amphetamine (Speed, crystal meth, ecstasy, chalk ice, methamphetamine, E): A baby will become irritable, have poor sleeping patterns and anorexia. Amphetamines are sometimes put in prescription medications. Breastfeeding should be stopped for 48 hours after this drug has been taken. 
  • Cocaine (Base, Blow, Charlie, Coke, Crack, Nose candy): Baby may experience irritability, spitting up, diarrhea, tremors and seizures. Street drugs may be laced with other harmful substances too. Do not breastfeed for 24 hours after cocaine use. 
  • Heroin (H, smack, diesel, gear, dog, horse, junk): Baby will experience tremors, restlessness, vomiting, loss of appetite, poor weight gain. Heroin could also be laced with other dangerous substances. Heroin is excreted into breast milk in large amounts and can cause a baby to become addicted. Breastfeeding should be stopped for 48 hours after using. Mothers who are on methadone treatment, in order to get over a Heroin addiction, are sometimes advised to stop breastfeeding for three months while taking it. 
  • Marijuana (pot, weed, dope, ganja, hash): There are mixed views on the use of Marijuana while breastfeeding, read them here.  
  • Phencyclidine (Angle dust, PCP, Ozone, Rocket fuel): PCP has a long half life and stays in a baby’s system for weeks. Safe levels have not been researched and the mother should avoid breastfeeding all together. 

When a mother takes any of these drugs, there is fear for the baby’s health, as well as the care for baby, since the mother's ability to look after her baby is hampered. It is imperative that you seek a substance abuse counsellor if you have a problem with any of these drugs.

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Tracy Behr, CBC, CLD (CBI)

Reference: Course information through Childbirth International on the physiology of breastfeeding / social drugs breastfeeding.

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