You probably know to (mostly) avoid alcohol and drugs while you’re pregnant — but afterward? What if you’ve pushed that baby out, made it home from the hospital and now all you want to do is relax — maybe with a little marijuana?
Well, you might want to think twice before lighting up. Especially if you’re breastfeeding.
A recent study shows that the THC from that joint or special brownie/gummies/what have you could linger in your breast milk for days. The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, found that low levels of chemicals like tetrahydrocannabinol, which are components in marijuana, were detected in mothers’ breast milk for up to six days after smoking pot or consuming an edible product.
Of course, there’s plenty more research yet to be done on the effects of marijuana and its chemical components on child development. Yet “due to this uncertainty, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises mothers to avoid its use while nursing,” Dr. Lauren Levine, assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, tells SheKnows.
And as a parent, you’ll want to get all the facts you can and follow the most up-to-date medical guidance before making a move that might put your child at risk. Right? Right.
The chemistry of marijuana
Marijuana is a plant that contains herbal components, most notably cannabinol and tetrahydrocannabinol. CBD products have been trending all over Instagram feeds and popping up in skin care lines for their calming, nourishing effects, but the THC component is the part known to create the marijuana high you get when you smoke pot.
And while that high may feel great to some people, it could be problematic for new and breastfeeding mothers. THC, which is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, is transferred into breast milk at low concentrations, with infants ingesting a mean of 2.5 percent of the maternal dose, says Levine.
How might it affect your child?
Beyond that, the research is small. “The number of studies on marijuana and breastfeeding are limited, as no one can do a prospective double-blind study, as that would be unethical,” Dr. Felice Gersh, an OB-GYN and founder/director of the Integrative Medical Practice of Irvine in Irvine, California, tells SheKnows. “Although few, from those studies out there, the majority show some adverse impacts of marijuana on the baby. And there are no long-term follow up studies at this time,” she says.
For instance, it could impact children’s brain development, although more evidence is needed. “Studies do show it concentrates in the cerebellum area of the brain, an area associated with schizophrenia,” she explains. So marijuana could potentially impact a baby’s movement, coordination, strength and cognitive abilities, she says. Basically, it’s not safe risking it when little knowledge is guaranteed.
What’s more, it can also lead to halted weight gain and sleep disturbances. “Marijuana can also cause sleepiness in the baby, which can lead to slow weight gain and possibly slow overall development in the baby long term. In addition, babies whose mothers smoke marijuana regularly have a higher risk of SIDS,” says Levine. Other reported effects on infants include sedation, low tone and poor sucking, she adds.
Here’s another warning: “As it passes into the breast milk and into the baby and can last weeks in fat tissue, there is the potential that marijuana can sedate the baby for a long time, resulting in less time nursing and less effective nursing and consequently less effective nutrition,” she explains.
In fact, a major concern is that marijuana may reduce lactation in mothers. By lowering the levels of prolactin, a hormone responsible for stimulating milk supply, it may make it harder for women to produce enough milk to feed their child. Often, mothers who do use marijuana will nurse for shorter periods of time, she adds.
Plus, it might interfere with your parenting skills too. “Besides the concern regarding the physical presence of THC in breast milk and what it may do to an infant, there is also the concern that a mother’s use of marijuana may affect her ability to care for her baby since her own judgment may be impaired,” says Levine. Because so much is still unknown, it is best refrain from marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, she says.
What about just a little bit?
Nope — sorry. “It’s not OK to smoke even a little. Marijuana is stored in fat and can be stored there for weeks at a time, slowly released into the mother’s milk and into the baby’s body,” she explains.
No one knows how differing amounts of marijuana can impact the health of the baby, so the experts agree that the safest approach is one of zero tolerance in which no amount of marijuana at any level is acceptable until more is known on the matter. That said, if you have particular concerns, health conditions or questions, you know the answer: Talk to your doctor.