The decision to breastfeed is a huge decision that many parents research before their baby is born. Between antibodies and the releasing of oxytocin, breastfeeding provides a slew of benefits for both baby and mom. We know this.
And with the rise of Covid-19, more women are choosing to provide their baby’s with the antibody-rich “liquid gold.” While we know that many beneficial agents pass through breast milk, there are also many unknowns. Moms who smoked marijuana prior to pregnancy — or are considering smoking after birth — may be wondering, is it is safe to use marijuana use while breastfeeding?
What do the experts say?
The official recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that “data are insufficient to say yes or no” to smoking weed while breastfeeding. To stay on the safe side, the agency stresses that parents “should be advised not to use marijuana or products containing cannabidiol (CBD) in any form while breastfeeding.” The American Academy of Pediatrics also discourages the use of cannabis while breastfeeding due to the “risks” being unknown. Yet, recent studies showed that there are no short-term risks in early-preterm babies who have been exposed to THC through breast milk.
Natalie Davis, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and neonatologist at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital along with a team of researchers, analyzed the medical records of more than 750 early preterm babies. The researchers compared the health outcomes of babies who breastfed from a THC-positive parent with those who breastfed from a THC-negative parents. Overall, they found no noticeable short-term health differences between the two groups by the time they left the hospital. This study did not include any full term infants, nor did it show any long-term effects that THC may have.
So while the official recommendations discourage it, are there some instances in which the known benefits may outweigh the risk of the unknown?
Currently we know a handful of conditions that medical marijuana is used by doctors to treat. Pain is the main reason that people seek a prescription, but there are other instances/conditions as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, these conditions include things like:
- Muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis
- Nausea from cancer chemotherapy
- Poor appetite and weight loss caused by chronic illness, such as HIV, or nerve pain
- Seizure disorders
- Crohn’s disease
Can we just pump and dump?
Pumping and dumping is a method some moms use after alcohol consumption in order to prevent baby from consuming milk with high alcohol levels. This method would not work for marijuana use. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that THC was detectable in 34 of the 54 samples of breast milk up to six days after the last reported use. So you would have to pump and dump for nearly a week to be THC free. In theory you can do that, but that’s a lot of work to pump milk you can’t use.
So what decisions do we make as parents when it comes to marijuana use while breastfeeding?
In an article written under a pen name on Parents.com, “Annie” speaks about using marijuana while breastfeeding to deal with her debilitating postpartum PTSD. Postpartum PTSD is a condition that effects about 9% of women. When given the option, the writer chose to use THC to calm herself rather than a prescription, and this route is not uncommon. Prescription medication can come with a slew of side effects and many worry about becoming dependent. Also, some medications are contraindicated for breastfeeding. And, unfortunately, many moms do not have access to quality, affordable healthcare to even pursue getting support in finding the proper medications.
“I know myself and know how marijuana has helped my anxiety throughout my life, so I have no doubt that marijuana is what rescued me,” the author writes. “It saved me for myself and it saved me as a mother for my daughter. My perfectly advanced child got a tiny bit of THC (amid all kinds of permissible substances, like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol) in her system while breastfeeding and I feel fine about it.”
As someone who personally struggles with postpartum anxiety, but has no desire to take a prescription medication, this makes perfect sense to me. When we become parents we are quick to worry about how our decisions effect our children. And as parents we are also quick to put our own well-being on the back burner. Of course, I’ll add in the disclaimer that I am in no way a medical professional; I also am not trying to sway your decision in one way or the other. Using marijuana, like any other substance prescribed or otherwise poses the risk of impairment and our goal as parents is to be in the absolute best shape possible to care for our children (so maybe have another trusted adult close by.) If you are considering cannabis use while nursing, consult your doctor before making any decisions.
For additional information, you can also visit this post from an IBCLC.