The excretion of drugs in human breast milk is reviewed with regard to milk production, composition, feeding patterns and mechanisms of drug transfer into milk. Fundamental principles of breast milk excretion are used to construct a pharmacokinetic approach useful for the study of most drugs. An infant-modulated 3-compartment open model is proposed for drug distribution and elimination in the breast feeding woman. Milk/plasma drug concentration ratios are projected on the basis of pH partitioning. While some studies confirm these projections, other studies demonstrate a need to consider additional factors such as lipid solubility and protein binding characteristics of a drug in milk. Data are lacking for most drugs and hence dosing via milk or risk to the infant remains speculative. Very few pharmacokinetic studies of both milk and infant plasma were found. A review of selected drug classes cites available information as a basis for future studies. Few drugs are contraindicated in breast feeding women, but supportive data for either proscriptions or permissive statements are often lacking. A neglected but potentially serious infant risk--impaired behaviour and development--is discussed from the standpoint of emerging animal data. Conceptually valid and comprehensive studies on drug excretion in breast milk are needed if this valuable nutrient for infants is to be made available safely.