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Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Risks from Substance Use

Jan 4, 2021

Alcohol and other drug use can create serious risks for both a mother and her baby, so it’s important to find the right type of treatment program quickly. A program experienced in treating pregnant women and new mothers after childbirth can help lower the risk to unborn babies and newborns. They also help mothers learn how to keep their recovery going during the postpartum period. Today, let’s introduce some of the main pregnancy and breastfeeding risks connected to substance use. 

The combination of a mother’s consumption of alcohol and pregnancy can create risks for an unborn baby. Occasional or chronic substance use during this time increases the chances of a baby being stillborn. Babies born to mothers with addiction may suffer from seizures, vomiting, high fever, and other withdrawal symptoms. Substance use following delivery can affect the safety of breast milk, with methamphetamine use creating a higher risk than alcohol, for example.

Alcohol & Drug Use During Pregnancy

Motherhood doesn’t automatically end drug and alcohol use for every woman. Expectant mothers may continue to use drugs or alcohol into the second or third trimester. Some drugs may be prescribed, and others could be recreational. Women may ignore the risks or make attempts to start using drugs less often or drinking less.

Effects of Substance Use in Pregnancy

The relationship between drug addiction and pregnancy can lead to a wide variety of health risks for unborn babies. Stillbirth is the greatest risk, with marijuana and prescription pain relievers more than doubling the risk. Neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, is another high risk from regular drug use during pregnancy. Babies with NAS experience withdrawal once they’re born. The symptoms can start right away or up to two weeks later. These babies may suffer from seizures, vomiting, high fever, and many other potential symptoms.

Impact of Specific Substances on Breastfeeding

When it comes to substance use while breastfeeding, the safety risks differ. Some drugs may be okay to continue using in moderation while others make breastfeeding a high risk to your baby. These are the effects of breastfeeding and substance use for specific drugs:


The amount of alcohol in breast milk is the same as in a mother’s bloodstream. Drinking regularly may reduce the amount of milk produced, too. The long-term risks of breastfeeding a baby while drinking daily are not yet known.


The chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in marijuana remains in breast milk for 20-36 hours after using and up to four days for women who smoke or ingest it daily. Breastfeeding mothers should avoid using marijuana altogether.


Benzos can affect breast milk differently, depending on the type used. Mothers using short-acting and intermediate-acting benzos are not exposing their babies to serious problems. However, using long-acting benzos can cause weight loss, lethargy, and sedation in infants. Mothers using high-dose or long-term drugs should avoid breastfeeding.


The stimulants of this type of drug enter and remain in the breast milk at high levels. Babies fed breast milk from a mother using methamphetamine may be easily agitated, cry continuously, have trouble sleeping, or become irritable. Cardiopulmonary failure leading to death is also possible. Mothers using this drug should not breastfeed without treatment or strategies to help reduce their use of the drug.


Mothers using prescription methadone may experience difficulty in getting their babies to latch. They may need support and encouragement to successfully breastfeed their babies. But, the methadone concentration in breast milk is typically low, and women can breastfeed before taking a dose or several hours after.

Hannah’s House Treatment of Substance Use in Pregnancy

The treatment specialists at Hannah’s House understands the unique demands created by substance use and pregnancy. Our programs are designed to help a woman end the cycle of drug use and receive the mental health care she needs to support her in recovery. Intensive family programming is available to help new mothers learn the skills to successfully handle the demands of caring for a newborn while continuing to work on her recovery.

Hannah’s House is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 866-952-5532.

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