Marijuana Use While Breast Feeding: A Collision of Known Benefits and Unknown Consequences
The news cycle moves so quickly these days that many people likely missed the most recent breast-feeding headlines and controversy.
After the United Nations health assembly in June 2018 called on governments to protect, promote and support breast-feeding,” the Trump Administration came under fire for not supporting the resolution and not understanding the important health benefits of breast-feeding infants rather than giving them powdered formula.
“Breast-feeding is one of the most cost-effective interventions for improving maternal and child health,” Dr. George C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told The New York Times.
Is it Okay to Breastfeed While Using Marijuana?
Another issue getting little attention is whether mothers who use marijuana should breast-feed their newborns, either smoked, vaped or taken in edible form. The short answer, is no.
With more and more states taking medicinal and recreational marijuana mainstream, and even the Food and Drug Administration approving its first ever cannabis-based drug for epilepsy – epidiolex – the risk of exposure to mothers and their newborns grows exponentially.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a very serious health issue for babies whose mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy, though researchers didn’t discover the link between alcohol and adverse infant outcomes until 1968.
The honest truth is that since the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, along with heroin, cocaine and MDMA, there is very little research on the potential dangers of using pot during the breast-feeding months of a newborn’s life.
6 Things to Consider Before Eating or Smoking Pot While Nursing
Though there’s little data on the issue, there are a number of reasons researchers and physicians warn mothers to avoid using cannabis while breast-feeding. These include some of the following:
- THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana can accumulate in high amounts in breast milk, which might be passed to a feeding infant and stored in their body’s fat deposits
- There’s some evidence that cannabis can sedate newborns, making them lethargic, and even affect their ability to suckle on their mother’s breast. This leads to slower developmental growth in newborns
- Cannabis use may affect how much breast milk a mother can produce
- Infants are far more vulnerable to chemicals and toxins than adults and experts recommend mothers avoid environments that might expose their child to secondhand smoke
- Since marijuana can stay in the body for almost a month, even occasional marijuana use should be avoided by breast-feeding mothers
- Finally, though just as important, impairment from using marijuana can affect a mother’s judgment, as well as her motor-skills, when caring for the baby, which can lead to unfortunate or even tragic accidents
Along with these concerns, there’s also marijuana’s impact on the developing brain.
There’s plenty of evidence suggesting that children and young adults should avoid marijuana use because the human brain is not fully developed until around the age of 25.
The earlier children and young adults are exposed to substances, like pot, alcohol and other drugs, the more likely they are to develop negative outcomes later in life. These can include dependency and addiction, along with psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
So health care experts worry that chronic marijuana use in a breast-feeding mother could, theoretically, create serious problems for the tiny developing brain of a newborn.
Benefits of Breast-Feeding
The benefits of healthy breast-feeding for infants, according to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, include:
- Lower risks of respiratory infections
- Decreased incidences of asthma, eczema and other allergies
- Fewer ear and gastrointestinal infections
- Decline in cases of sudden infant death syndrome
Back in the early 60s, there was little to no research regarding the negative consequences of smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol while pregnant or breast-feeding babies.
It took years before the research was in, and today we know they can both be harmful for the unborn fetus and newborn babies.
Avoiding marijuana while breast-feeding, even if more research needs to be done, is by far the best choice.
It’s always better to err on the side of caution, and a healthy, happy newborn is worth every bit of personal sacrifice, however great or small.
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