Some women use marijuana to manage the side effects of pregnancy, to cope with anxiety, or to sleep better. Many also hope they can safely do so while breastfeeding.
However, little research is available, and much of the research that does exist is incomplete, poorly designed, or very outdated. In this article, learn about whether it is safe to use marijuana while breastfeeding, as well as about the possible risks for the baby.
The body metabolizes marijuana very slowly, unlike other drugs and alcohol.
It stores marijuana in fat cells, meaning it can remain in the body for weeks or longer.
Because the body uses fat to make breast milk, the marijuana may pass into the milk and the baby. This means that marijuana that entered the bloodstream weeks before can still get into the breast milk.
Research typically focuses on how much marijuana passes to the baby, and whether it is harmful. Many older studies have shown that marijuana does pass to the baby and may have adverse effects.
However, many studies on the use of marijuana while breastfeeding have failed to consider other factors. These factors can include exposure to secondhand smoke, the health of the women who use marijuana, and the amount of marijuana they use.
This lack of research makes it difficult for doctors to offer any recommendations about marijuana and breastfeeding, or to assess whether any amount of marijuana might be safe for breastfed babies. However, it is best to err on the side of caution.
Some potential risks of using marijuana while breastfeeding include:
- Developmental problems: Some studies suggest that marijuana exposure may affect the development of a baby's movement, coordination, and strength. Other research indicates it could also affect intellectual development.
- Breastfeeding for less time: Some research found that women who smoked marijuana did not breastfeed for as long as women who did not breastfeed.
- Slow weight gain: Marijuana can make a baby sleepy. This may mean the baby eats less and develops more slowly. In low birth weight and premature babies, slow weight gain can present serious risks.
- Reduced awareness: Marijuana may affect a person's awareness, compromising their ability to care for a baby.
The active chemicals in marijuana accumulate in the body with more use, so frequent use of marijuana is more likely to be harmful.
Breastfeeding women making decisions about marijuana should know that not all studies have found a link between marijuana and adverse outcomes.
A 2014 review found only one human study that linked marijuana exposure in breast milk to developmental issues.
A 2017 review looked at six previous studies, including animal studies. Four of the studies associated the use of marijuana while breastfeeding with adverse effects.
However, no studies have followed babies over several years to determine the long-term developmental effects, so it is impossible to say whether using marijuana while breastfeeding is safe or not. Since we cannot guarantee safety, avoiding marijuana is best.
Dr. Heather Bradshaw is a specialist in cannabinoid pharmacology at Indiana University's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. She believes that there is no safe level of consumption while breastfeeding as this can lead to developmental issues:
Research has suggested that early exposure of THC to the brain can affect cerebellar development. Since abnormal cerebellar development is associated with an increased chance of schizophrenia later in life, this could be a risk factor.
Dr. Heather Bradshaw
Cannabidiol (CBD) derives from marijuana. It does not usually contain Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the chemical that causes people to feel "high."
CBD is increasingly popular as an herbal remedy and a form of medical cannabis. CBD is also a medication and may not be safe for a baby.
However, research from 2017 suggests that some strains of CBD may contain THC, which could be dangerous for babies.
Dr. Bradshaw would also recommend avoiding CBD products when breastfeeding:
While there is little developmental data on this issue, we do know that CBD is incredibly effective at treating seizures and works rigorously in the brain. I would therefore suggest that it is not a good idea to expose a developing baby to a very active brain drug."
Dr. Heather Bradshaw
As there is little research available as to whether some CBD products may contain THC and other substances, women should be wary of using it while breastfeeding.
Some women may wonder if they can pump breast milk and throw it away after using marijuana. However, even after a single use of marijuana, a drug test for THC can be positive for weeks or even months.
The body stores marijuana in fat cells and also uses fat to make breast milk, so chemicals from marijuana could pass to the baby even weeks after a single use.
Pumping and dumping for a few hours, or even a few days, after using marijuana will not prevent it from getting to the baby. There is no benefit to this strategy, and it may create a false sense of safety.
There is too little research to determine whether using marijuana while breastfeeding is unsafe or if it is safe in certain amounts. A 2017 review attempted to assess whether the risks of cannabis outweigh the benefits of breastfeeding, but argued that further research is needed to make clear recommendations.
Breastfeeding women should not use marijuana. Those who do should be extremely cautious and actively work to reduce their use. Talking to a doctor can help them take steps to reduce their consumption.