According to surveys conducted in the United States, approximately 5.9 percent of pregnant women use illicit drugs, and 8.5 percent drink alcohol.
Women who abuse substances during their pregnancies increase the risks that their babies will be born with conditions such as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), fetal alcohol syndrome, and other dangerous issues.
Many breastfeeding mothers with substance use disorders want to breastfeed their babies while they go through addiction recovery. Here, you will learn more about the process of drug and alcohol detox while breastfeeding.
How Drugs And Alcohol Transfer Into Breast Milk
Everything a pregnant woman puts into her body is transferred to the fetus through the bloodstream. This is also true of a mother breastfeeding her baby.
If a woman is addicted to drugs or drinking alcohol, the substance will continue to secrete toxins through the breastmilk and affect the development of the child’s brain and body.
Some of the substances that may affect babies through breast milk include:
- heroin and prescription opiates
- the psychotropic chemical THC, ingested from marijuana use
- benzodiazepines “benzos”
- stimulants and other amphetamines
- hallucinogens such as LSD, MDMA “Ecstasy”, and others
Symptoms Of Substance Use During Pregnancy
Regular drug use during pregnancy may pose several risks to the health of the baby, including NAS, in which the baby goes through addiction withdrawal up to 14 days after birth.
Signs and symptoms of newborn withdrawal may include:
- abnormal sucking reflex
- excessive or high-pitched crying due to cravings
- sleep problems
- slow weight gain
- vomiting and diarrhea
- stuffy nose
- blotchy skin
The severity of withdrawal symptoms in babies will vary depending on drugs used, whether the baby was born preterm, and other factors. Oftentimes, withdrawal symptoms in newborns will subside on their own.
What Is Detox?
Detoxification is the process of cleansing the body of toxic substances such as drugs and alcohol. In a drug rehab setting, medically monitored detox will help manage potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms as well.
Medications used during detox may include:
- buprenorphine or methadone for opioid addiction
- disulfiram for alcohol use disorder or alcoholism
- naltrexone for opioid use disorder or alcohol addiction
- Vivitrol for alcoholism and opioid use disorder
The length of detox will vary depending on the severity of the addiction, types of substance used, method of abuse, and other medical conditions.
Most nursing mothers can complete a detox regimen within two weeks.
How Detox Affects Breastfeeding
There are documented risks and benefits for women who start the detoxification process while breastfeeding.
Both options should be weighed in consultation with your health care provider before making a decision.
Risks Of Detoxing While Breastfeeding
Even though abstaining from drugs and alcohol is a crucial first step for the health of the mother and baby, the drugs used during detox may pose developmental risks as well.
For example, buprenorphine and methadone have been shown to affect motor development delays in infants under one year in age.
Withdrawal symptoms may be potentially life-threatening, depending on the type of drugs used and duration of use. Detox can help manage these symptoms, but only in a controlled, medically monitored environment, as detoxing at home can pose additional risks.
Benefits Of Detoxing While Breastfeeding
The primary benefits of detoxing are that the mother will not be abusing substances that she otherwise would have been without detox.
Even though there are risks associated with detox medications transferred through human milk, they are far less dangerous to the health and well-being of the baby than continued drug abuse. In general, medication-assisted detox is safe for breastfeeding mothers.
Women in recovery benefit immensely both physically and emotionally from the medications offered during detox. Their reduced stress levels will have a beneficial impact on the baby.
The stress levels of babies with NAS will also be lowered, due to the physical contact and bonding with the mother during breastfeeding.
Research has shown that if a fetus is exposed to small doses of buprenorphine and methadone in utero, withdrawal symptoms and other health issues are easier to manage post-birth.
Find A Treatment Center For Substance Use Disorder
If you or a loved one have a substance use disorder, help is available in both inpatient and outpatient treatment centers.
Breastfeeding during detox requires consultation with a medical professional. Call or visit our helpline today for more information on pursuing sobriety during or after your pregnancy.Article Sources
- American Academy of Pediatrics — Substance Use Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral To Treatment for Pediatricians
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) — Substance use during pregnancy
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Substance use While Pregnant and Breastfeeding
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment