A comprehensive review of assay methods to determine drugs in breast milk and the safety of breastfeeding when taking drugs

Anal Bioanal Chem. 2010 Jun;397(3):1157-79. doi: 10.1007/s00216-010-3681-0. Epub 2010 Apr 13.


Most of the licit and illicit drugs consumed by the breastfeeding woman pass into the milk and can modify the production, volume and composition of the milk, as well as hypothetically have short- and long-term harmful effects on the infant. There is much confusion in the scientific community regarding this issue: should a woman breastfeed her baby while continuing to use prescription drugs and/or drugs of abuse? There are many case reports of clinically significant toxicity in breast-fed infants from some substances used by mothers (such as irritability, vomiting, sedation, respiratory depression, shock), but there are too few data on studies conducted in breastfeeding women and their infants to make a realistic risk assessment. The objective measurement of a drug and/or metabolites in maternal milk is the first step when investigating the amount of drug excreted in milk and subsequently calculating the daily dose administered to the breast-fed infant. The present review reports the analytical methods developed to detect different drugs in the breast milk, listing the principal characteristics and validation parameters, advantages and disadvantages. Furthermore, the mechanisms of drug transfer into breast milk are discussed, the correlation between the concentration of the drug in breast milk and potential adverse outcomes on the infant are described for each drug, and suggested harm minimization strategies and approved breastfeeding recommendations are indicated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding* / adverse effects
  • Chemistry Techniques, Analytical / methods*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / adverse effects
  • Illicit Drugs / analysis*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / analysis*
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations