Don't Smoke Pot While Breastfeeding: New Research Shows Why

Thinking about smoking marijuana while breastfeeding? Think again.

Smoking Pot During Pregnancy.

As states gradually begin to legalize or decriminalize marijuana, access to high quality and relatively inexpensive pot is becoming more common. Not surprisingly, recent research shows that the number of pregnant and non-pregnant women reporting marijuana use is steadily increasing each year. This is unfortunate because marijuana has well-known negative effects on the developing fetus, since cannabinoids such as THC readily cross into the placenta.

Even more concerning is that some of these negative effects persist into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Several studies have shown that children of parents who smoked marijuana during pregnancy have deficits in intelligence, language development, memory, reading, and attention. There are many reasons why moms might smoke pot during and after pregnancy, including anxiety reduction, reducing nausea and vomiting, and the common belief that smoking marijuana is less harmful than smoking cigarettes. But, the risk to your unborn child is definitely not worth it!

Smoking Pot While Breastfeeding.

In addition to smoking or consuming (in cookies, brownies, etc) marijuana during pregnancy, moms are also reporting smoking marijuana while breastfeeding infants and toddlers. In Colorado where smoking pot is legal, nearly 10% of women reported smoking marijuana while breastfeeding.

Marijuana is the most commonly used recreational drug among breastfeeding women. - Dr. Kerri A. Bertrand.

The most important psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is THC, which is a very small molecule: in fact, it is so small that it transfers easily into breastmilk. A recent study found that THC not only passes into breastmilk, but it continues pass into breast milk for up to 6 days after the last reported use of marijuana.

In other words, breastfeeding moms showed significant amounts of THC in their breast milk after smoking pot, and this remained in their breast milk for up to 6 days after smoking.

How does smoking pot while breastfeeding affect your baby?

Remember how we said that the THC molecule is very small? Well, it's not only small enough to pass into the placenta and into breast milk, it's also small enough to pass the blood-brain barrier. In other words, when your baby drinks breast milk containing THC, some of that THC will likely make it into your baby's developing brain.

Unfortunately, there is very limited evidence about how exactly smoking pot while breastfeeding can affect your baby's development. Some studies show that it can interfere with your baby's growth, some show that it can interfere with normal brain development, and some other studies show delays in developing motor skills. It's worth pointing out that the research is limited, however, and there are also studies suggesting that it has no reliable effect on a baby's motor and mental development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend abstaining from cannabis when breastfeeding.

Should you breastfeed if you can't stop smoking marijuana?

So this new research begs the question: if you're not going to quit smoking marijuana, is it better to breastfeed while smoking marijuana, or not to breastfeed at all?

According to Dr. Seth Ammerman at Stanford University, breastfeeding should still be encouraged even in mothers who use marijuana. However, he also suggests that they should be encouraged to cut back on how much they smoke or quit entirely.

And that's great advice!

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