Doctors highly recommend that mothers breastfeed their infants if they can. Breastmilk is perfectly balanced for baby’s needs, providing the nutrients they need for growth and a strong immune system.
Cannabis use is 100% unsafe during pregnancy. It can lead to similar complications that tobacco use can cause, like pre-term birth and congenital disabilities. Many moms who used cannabis pre-pregnancy might wonder if they can begin using it again while breastfeeding their baby.
“With the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use, many families assume that it is safe for pregnancy and lactation,” says Mona Shehab, MD, neonatologist at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. “In fact, it is not safe to use marijuana during pregnancy and lactation.”
More studies are needed to determine the exact effects of cannabis in breastmilk, but for now, the answer is clear: it is not safe to use cannabis while breastfeeding until proven otherwise.
THC Gets into Breastmilk
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main part of cannabis that creates the high feeling, is transferred from a mother’s blood into breastmilk. Whether you eat or smoke cannabis, the THC enters your blood and then your breastmilk.
Some studies have shown that side effects of THC include long-term neurological problems for your baby, like development delay and delayed motor development. It can also cause poor sucking when breastfeeding and even slow down growth.
THC is stored in your fat cells, which means it sticks around for a long time. Studies show that although THC levels in breast milk peak one hour after use, it remains in your system for six days after use. That means you can’t just “pump and dump” milk after ingesting it to avoid exposing your baby to THC.
It is not like one pumping that you can discard. If they want to commit to breastfeeding, they should totally abstain from cannabis use.
That can be hard for many women, especially since most moms who use cannabis aren’t using it just for fun. Many women use it to manage anxiety and depression.
Dr. Shehab recommends these women seek help in managing these conditions without cannabis if they want to breastfeed. A psychologist or therapist can help provide the support moms need. A physician may also be able to recommend medications that are considered safer for use during breastfeeding than cannabis.
Secondhand Smoke Increases the Risk of SIDS
Just as with tobacco smoke, smoke from marijuana can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the unexplained, unexpected death of an infant in their first year of life. It often occurs when a baby stops breathing.
Smoke can affect an infant’s lungs and their brain, increasing the risk of SIDS. Secondhand smoke can also affect children long-term, increasing their risk for asthma, ear infections and bronchitis. However, studies have not determined if cannabis smoke poses the same risks as tobacco smoke.
Cannabis May Affect Milk Supply
Because cannabis comes from a plant, many women mistakenly think it will boost milk supply like fenugreek or other herbs. But Dr. Shehab says the opposite may be true.
Cannabis can affect hormones involved in breastmilk production, including oxytocin and prolactin. Lower levels of these hormones can lower milk supply.
Keeping up a plentiful milk supply is important for continuing to breastfeed. Lower supply may be one reason why women who use cannabis tend to breastfeed for a shorter time than women who do not.
Can I Use CBD Oil Instead?
Many people are now ingesting CBD oil or using it on their skin to help with anxiety or depression. But Dr. Shehab says there are no studies showing CBD oil is safe to use during breastfeeding.
CBD oil is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) either. That means you don’t really know what is in products you are using. That’s another reason you should avoid using CBD oil on yourself or on your baby.
The experts at Memorial Healthcare System strongly recommend that women avoid cannabis use in all forms during pregnancy and breastfeeding. We offer the resources you need to stop using cannabis and keep your child healthy.
For more information, talk to your OB/GYN for support and referrals to therapists who can help.
If you or someone you know is pregnant and struggling with substance abuse, please visit our maternal addiction program, Mothers in Recovery (MIR) or call 954-276-3429. MIR is dedicated to reducing the number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) by treating drug addiction in pregnancy in a compassionate and effective way.