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What every breastfeeding mom should know about using marijuana, edibles and CBD

June 5, 2019
What every breastfeeding mom should know about using marijuana, edibles and CBD

Now that marijuana is legal for medicinal and/or recreational purposes in more than half the country — and the stigma attached to smoking cannabis or partaking in one of its edible forms is diminishing — it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many women are wondering: Can you smoke weed while breastfeeding? And what about edibles or CBD products? Are they safe when you’re nursing?

In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics officially took its stance on marijuana and breastfeeding, advising nursing moms to stay away from cannabis altogether (in conjunction with the CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). That said, the effects marijuana has on breastfed infants is still a relatively young area of study, so there’s still a lot to learn.

Confused about breastfeeding and marijuana? Here’s important expert advice to keep in mind on this controversial topic.

Smoking weed while breastfeeding: Is it safe?

Smoking weed while breastfeeding is a tricky subject because there hasn’t been a ton of research done on it yet — particularly in terms of the long-term effects it may have on kids. That being said, experts seem to to be collectively giving nursing moms a resounding “no” when asked about smoking weed and breastfeeding.

A few reasons doctors advise nursing moms to avoid smoking pot while breastfeeding:

  • Babies may be exposed to THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, which may affect normal brain development.

  • Babies may be exposed to secondhand smoke, which can cause developmental delays, decreased weight gain and sleepiness.

  • Parental awareness is impaired (aka, you’re high!) when using marijuana.

“Using marijuana while breastfeeding isn’t considered safe” says Dr. Susan Crowe, a clinical associate professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Maternal Fetal Medicine at Stanford University. “Because THC is stored in fat cells and potentially concentrated in breast milk, a breastfeeding infant may be exposed to THC over a long period of time. Additionally, infant secondhand marijuana smoke exposure has been associated with an increase risk of SIDS.”

Marijuana edibles while breastfeeding: Are they safe?

One of the newer and most rapidly growing ways to use marijuana is in edible form — by eating foods or candies that have been infused with marijuana, such as baked goods, gummies, chocolates and even cooking oils. Except for the risk of exposing baby to secondhand smoke, the dangers of using marijuana while breastfeeding still hold true when consuming edibles. Babies can be exposed to THC, and, perhaps more concerning is the fact that judgment may become more impaired with edibles than with smoking since the amount of THC and its effects are notoriously difficult to measure with the former.

Dr. Donnica Moore, an OB-GYN and host of “In the Ladies’ Room With Dr. Donnica”, agrees with Crowe, saying, “There is not a substantial amount of research on the safety of marijuana in any form in breast milk, so until further notice, my recommendation is no marijuana in any form for nursing moms.”

What do studies say about marijuana and breastfeeding?

Studies on the effects marijuana — in any form — has on breastfed children are limited, and overall, they’re difficult to draw conclusions from because they include so many variables. A number of factors can affect infant health, including personal and professional prenatal care.

For instance, a 1990 study in neurotoxicology and teratology found that "marijuana exposure via the mother's milk during the first month postpartum appeared to be associated with a decrease in infant motor development at 1 year of age." However, despite abstaining from alcohol, tobacco and cocaine, these same mothers also admit to using marijuana early on in their pregnancies, as well.

More recently, a 2019 study found that people who consumed edibles are more likely to experience severe intoxication, as well as acute psychiatric symptoms (even with no history of mental illness). The same study reported that emergency room visits were significantly higher in people who consumed edibles than people who smoked marijuana.

On the Denver Public Health website, nursing moms are advised to avoid marijuana in any form.

“Marijuana use is not recommended for anyone while pregnant or breastfeeding,” the site reads. “Some people think that using a vape pen or eating marijuana is safer than smoking it, but marijuana in any form may be unsafe for your baby as it still contains THC.”

How long does THC stay in breast milk?

Despite the numerous factors that affect research on this subject, it should be noted that studies across the board have found the presence of THC in breast milk (anywhere from six days to six weeks later) in at least some of its subjects who have used marijuana — and it is absorbed by babies.

In a Guidelines for Breastfeeding and Substance Use publication, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine cites a study that concluded: “THC is present in human milk up to eight times that of maternal plasma levels, and metabolites are found in infant feces, indicating that THC is absorbed and metabolized by the infant.”

Again, though, when it comes to cannabis, there are various elements to take into consideration, including the fact that women who use it are also more likely than non-users to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes — two additional components that may affect infant health (and, in turn, study results).

Using CBD while breastfeeding: Is it safe?

It’s safe to say that CBD, which is short for cannabidiol, is currently having a moment in the wellness sphere. CBD, which doesn’t get you stoned (unless the specific product contains THC; always check the package ingredients) and there’s no risk of secondhand smoke, has been touted for the calming effect it can have on people, so it’s no surprise moms are reaching for it.

CBD comes in a number of forms, including:

  • Oils

  • Edibles, such as cookies and gummies

  • Pills

  • Topical creams (including bath bombs!)

  • Vapes

But is it safe to use CBD while breastfeeding? At this point, virtually no studies have been done on CBD and breastfeeding, so most experts advise nursing moms to err on the side of caution — even when it comes to topical CBD products.

While CBD doesn’t get you high and there’s no risk of secondhand smoke, experts still advise nursing moms to be careful using it.

“CBD products may theoretically be safer than marijuana, but there is even less available research about its safety in breast milk,” says Moore.

Alternatives to marijuana and CBD

Whether you were formally prescribed marijuana for anxiety or depression or found, through recreational use, that cannabis or CBD helps you keep an even keel, the general consensus is that both should be avoided while nursing.  

“Neither marijuana nor CBD oil have been established as safe to use during pregnancy or lactation,” says Crowe. “If a breastfeeding woman feels like they need to use if for medicinal purposes, I would encourage her to speak with her care provider to discuss her symptoms. There are antidepressants available that treat postpartum depression and anxiety that be safely used during lactation.”  

Read next: Is drinking alcohol while breastfeeding always a bad idea?

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