AIMSTo investigate the transfer of rac-tramadol and its rac-O-desmethyl metabolite into transitional milk, and assess unwanted effects in the breastfed infant.METHODSTramadol HCl (100 mg six hourly) was administered to 75 breastfeeding mothers for postoperative analgesia on days 2-4 after Caesarian section. Milk and plasma samples were collected after administration of four or more doses. Rac-tramadol and rac-O-desmethyltramadol were measured by high performance liquid chromatography. Milk : plasma ratio (M : P) and infant doses were calculated by standard methods. The behavioural characteristics of the exposed breastfed infants and a matched control group of infants not exposed to tramadol were also studied.RESULTSAt steady-state, mean (95% CI) M : P was 2.2 (2.0, 2.4) for rac-tramadol and 2.8 (2.5, 3.1) for rac-O-desmethyltramadol. The estimated absolute and relative infant doses were 112 (102, 122) mu g kg(-1) day(-1) and 30 (28, 32) mu g kg(-1) day(-1), and 2.24% (2.04, 2.44)% and 0.64% (0.59, 0.69)% for rac-tramadol and rac-O-desmethyltramadol, respectively. The exposed infants and control breastfed infants had similar characteristics, including Apgar scores at birth and Neurologic and Adaptive Capacity Scores.CONCLUSIONSThe combined relative infant dose of 2.88% at steady-state was low. The similarity of NACS in exposed infants and controls suggests that there were no significant behavioural adverse effects. We conclude that short-term maternal use of tramadol during establishment of lactation is compatible with breastfeeding.