As the use of cannabis and all associated products begin to lose their stigma, we are beginning to gather more information about the health effects of cannabis use over time and in the short term. With the scientific studies of the use of cannabis increasing, we are finally able to learn more about this amazing plant and its risks and rewards to our overall health.
Still, as it is now, there is limited information about the health effects over time of cannabis use in many conditions, including breastfeeding. While it is known that chemicals from cannabis in any form can be passed to the infant through breast milk, according to the CDC, the data is insufficient to say whether it is safe to use cannabis while breastfeeding.
Let’s take a look at breastfeeding and cannabis, based on what we know now.
The History of Breastfeeding and Cannabis
The history of breastfeeding and cannabis is not a long one. Cannabis in breastfeeding was described first in 1982, which is about the same time as the first long-term studies of cannabis use in pregnancy were beginning, according to Children’s Hospital Colorado. At the time, cannabis joints contained about 4% THC, while today, depending on the strain, it can be more than 20%.
The Scientific Research on Breastfeeding and Cannabis
The evidence based on scientific research on breastfeeding and cannabis is often contradictory. According to one study in 2018 that had a group of 8 mothers use a controlled amount of cannabis and give samples before inhalation, as well as at 20 minutes and 1, 2, and 4 hours afterward, the amount of THC in breast milk peaked at 1 hour and dropped drastically afterward. After 4 hours, there were no measurable concentrations of metabolites in breast milk. (Baker, et al. 2018)
However, another study in 2018 using a larger study sample of 50 mothers found that THC was detectable in 63% of samples up to 6 days after reported use. The variability in THC concentration was dependent upon the frequency of use, with regular users showing the highest concentrations. The study concluded that THC was detectable in the majority of samples. (Bertrand, et al. 2018)
Results of three longitudinal studies of the effects of cannabis use while breastfeeding, from the ’70s, ’90s, and 2000s, cited in Cannabis Use Disorder (Velez, et al. 2019) showed that the effects of cannabis use were less likely to appear during infancy or childhood, although some showed an increase in hyperactivity. Two of the studies found effects in teens and adults, including a significant increase in problems with memory and learning, visual perception, and verbal reasoning than the offspring of those not exposed to cannabis as infants. (The offspring in the third study were not yet teens.)
Guidelines for Breastfeeding and Cannabis Use
Now that you know a bit about the history of breastfeeding while using cannabis, as well as the scientific research, let’s talk about some guidelines for breastfeeding while high on weed.
Avoid smoking cannabis around your baby: Secondhand cannabis smoke is not good for babies (or anyone, really). If you do smoke, do it outside, away from your baby, and make sure the area is well-ventilated.
Choose edibles or tinctures over smoking: Edibles and tinctures are a better option when breastfeeding because they don’t involve inhaling smoke.
Start low and go slow: When trying a new cannabis product, it’s always best to start with a low dose and increase gradually as needed.
Be aware of your body and baby’s reaction: Every parent-baby pair is different, so you’ll need to be attuned to how your body and baby are reacting to the cannabis. If you notice your baby is fussy or not feeding well, it’s best to stop using cannabis until you can talk to a doctor or lactation consultant.
While the long-term effects of cannabis use on breastfed infants are not yet fully understood, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommend that mothers avoid using cannabis while breastfeeding.
If you are a breastfeeding mother who chooses to use cannabis, be sure to talk to your doctor or lactation consultant about potential risks and how to minimize them.
FAQs About Breastfeeding and Cannabis
Although using weed while breastfeeding is a controversial topic, many women do choose to use cannabis while nursing. In the section below, I’ve answered some of the most common questions I get about breastfeeding and cannabis use.
Please remember that this is not medical advice and you should speak to a doctor or lactation consultant if you have any concerns.
Is it safe to breastfeed while using cannabis?
The data is insufficient to say yes or no, but it is currently thought that cannabis use while breastfeeding can be harmful to the baby. While some recent studies have found no adverse effects, others have shown impaired cognitive function later in life. At this time, with so little research, it cannot be unequivocally stated that it is safe to breastfeed while using cannabis.
What are the risks of breastfeeding while using cannabis?
THC has the potential to cause harmful neurological effects to the infant that manifest later in life. Additionally, there are often other contaminants in cannabis like heavy metals, bacteria, and pesticides that can be harmful to the mother and baby. (Tamika Cross, MD FACOG, board-certified OB-GYN)
Can cannabis pass through breast milk to the baby?
Yes, studies have shown that cannabis passes through breast milk in varying quantities, depending on the frequency of use. THC is fat-soluble and accumulates in breast milk and is then passed to the baby during nursing.
What are the effects of cannabis on a nursing baby?
Breastfeeding while using cannabis can produce effects such as hyperactivity, learning and memory impairment, as well as impairment of visual perception and verbal reasoning. Studies are still being done to determine all possible effects.
Is it ok to pump and dump after using cannabis?
Cannabis is still in breast milk for up to 6 days after use, so the pump and dump method is not currently seen as effective. There is a high variability in breast milk concentrations, meaning that while the estimated dose of THC in infants is lower than an adult dose, some infants may be exposed to much higher amounts.
What are some tips for breastfeeding while using cannabis?
While it is not recommended, studies have shown that more frequent use results in a higher concentration, so extremely limited use of cannabis products, or use of those low in THC, could have less of an effect, although all cannabis products including CBD could alter brain development.
Where can I find more information about breastfeeding and cannabis?
Evidence of cannabis use while breastfeeding seems to be contradictory, according to multiple studies. The truth is, there has not yet been enough research to unequivocally state that it is safe to use cannabis while breastfeeding, and thus its use is cautioned against by the CDC and AAP.
While some studies have shown no ill effects in the short-term, longer-term studies have shown cognitive impairment in teens and adults who consumed cannabis while nursing. Much more research needs to be done to get a firm answer, and in the meantime, it is recommended to use an abundance of caution and abstain from cannabis use while breastfeeding.