Question: I left my girlfriend because of her drug habit. We have a newborn child together and I’m concerned that she is continuing the drug use and endangering our child through her breast milk. Can you test breast milk for drugs?
Answer: Most drugs of abuse readily pass into human breast milk and can be harmfull, while therapeutic levels of some prescription drugs may be considered compatible with breastfeeding. The problem is that there is virtually no drug in the world, including Tylenol, that can be said to be absolutely safe all the time. In certain situations, like nursing a sick preemie, some medications appearing in even very tiny amounts can be significant to the health of the infant.
In 2008, the CDC reported more than 70% of mothers breast feed their babies and that 5.2% had used illicit drugs while 11.6% of pregnant women acknowledged alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Since this was voluntarily self-disclosed, we don’t know how many chose to hide their use of drugs or alcohol while pregnant or while breast feeding.
So to answer your question, yes breast milk can be tested for drugs and alcohol with results provided in just a few days. Care must be taken, however, to collect a minimum of 18mL (approximately 1 tablespoon) of milk in a sterile container to avoid cross contamination and a false negative or positive result.
It might also be worth noting that testing breast milk without the knowledge of the mother may get you into hot water, as the milk may be considered private property. If breast milk is tested without the knowledge of the mother it might be done as an unknown substance where the source of the milk, or that it is even milk, is unknown. Glad you’re looking out for the infant.
Reach Gary Patrone, CEO of ARCpoint Labs of Tempe & Phoenix, at Tempe@ARCpointLabs.com. Follow him on Twitter @ARCpointAZ