Experts recommend that you stop using marijuana while breastfeeding. But using marijuana while breastfeeding may be better than switching to formula.
Breastfeeding offers many health benefits to both mothers and infants. However, doctors are conflicted when it comes to breastfeeding and marijuana use.
Studies show that THC can come out in a mother’s milk after she has ingested marijuana. And other studies show that babies who are breastfed by marijuana-using mothers may have motor development issues.
Overall, it is recommended that you stop using marijuana during breastfeeding. But the risks of using marijuana during breastfeeding are still not established.
Lactation experts believe it is sometimes worth continuing to breastfeed while using marijuana.
Does Marijuana Affect Breastmilk?
Evidence suggests that THC comes out in the breastmilk of mothers who use marijuana.
A 1982 study examined milk samples from two mothers using marijuana. The first mother smoked marijuana once per day, while the second mother smoked seven times a day.
The milk of both mothers contained THC, with the lighter smoker having less and the heavier smoker having more.
The researchers also tested the women’s blood, and found that their milk had up to 8 times as much THC as their blood, meaning THC was concentrated in the breastmilk. The researchers believe this is because THC easily dissolves in the fat in breastmilk.
The researchers also tested their babies’ stool for THC and THC metabolites. They found that babies excreted both THC and metabolites, suggesting that babies absorb and process the THC they get from their mother’s milk.
What Are The Effects on Babies?
When it comes to the effects of using marijuana and breastfeeding, there are conflicting reports.
The period after birth when the child is breastfeeding is a critical time for brain development. THC is thought to be distributed to the brain and stored in fat tissues for weeks to months.
However, it can be hard to draw any conclusions because mothers who smoke marijuana during lactation are likely to have smoked during pregnancy, as well. This means we can’t always tell whether exposure in the womb, or from the milk causes changes in the baby’s development.
A 1985 study found that there was no difference in babies’ growth, mental, or motor development between mothers who smoked during breastfeeding and those who didn’t.
However, the researchers pointed out that their findings conflict with other studies. They believe that differences in the samples may account for this discrepancy.
A larger study published in 1990 found significant differences in motor development between breastfed 1 year olds whose mothers smoked marijuana and those whose mothers did not. There were no significant differences in socioeconomic status between the two groups.
Breastfeeding vs. Formula
Health authorities worldwide agree that breastfeeding has many benefits for the mother and the child. Breastfeeding results in lifelong health benefits for children.
Children who are breastfed have a lower risk of infant mortality, allergies, diabetes, and infections. Mothers who breastfeed experience less postpartum depression, and have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
The World Health Organization recommends that infants are breastfed for at least the first six months of their lives.
When a mother cannot or chooses not to breastfeed, the other option is bottle feeding using formula.
While infant formula has improved over the years, it is still unable to reproduce the benefits of mother’s milk.
Overall, breastfeeding has many benefits and is recommended over formula feeding.
What Do Experts Say?
Even though the risks of using marijuana during breastfeeding are not established, healthcare providers recommend stopping marijuana use during breastfeeding.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists has stated that marijuana use during lactation is “discouraged” due to insufficient evidence that it is safe.
However, there are many health benefits to breastfeeding rather than using formula. So if a woman cannot abstain from using marijuana, it may still be worth breastfeeding rather than switching to formula.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) released a set of guidelines on breastfeeding and substance use in 2015. The guidelines state:
“At this time, although the data are not strong enough to recommend not breastfeeding with any marijuana use, we urge caution.”
This means that the benefits of breastfeeding likely outweigh the risks caused by marijuana. However, there still could be a risk, so it’s best to breastfeed without using marijuana.
However, these guidelines have been challenged by other experts in the field. The authors called the guidelines “disappointing”, arguing that medical professionals should always err on the side of caution. They believe mothers who use marijuana should stop breastfeeding.
A 2015 survey of lactation professionals (including nurses, lactation specialists, and other professionals) found that most of these workers make recommendations on a case-by-case basis when it comes to marijuana and breastfeeding.
The professionals estimated that between 1 in 10 and 1 in 5 of their clients used marijuana while breastfeeding.
The most frequently cited source that lactation professionals used to make their recommendations was Dr. Thomas Hale’s book “Medications and Mother’s Milk”.
In the book, marijuana is placed in the highest risk category. The book states: “using the drug in breastfeeding women clearly outweighs any possible benefit from breastfeeding.”
Interestingly, many of these professionals base their recommendations off their personal and clinical experience.
15% of those surveyed recommended that women stop breastfeeding completely if they were unable to stop using marijuana.
However, many of the lactation professionals surveyed believe the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks of marijuana exposure. 41% of respondents recommend continuing to breastfeed even if the mother is using marijuana.
The Bottom Line
There is a lot of debate when it comes to marijuana and breastfeeding.
It is well-established that there are many benefits to breastfeeding babies. But the risks of using marijuana while breastfeeding are still up for debate.
Some studies have shown negative effects of marijuana use during breastfeeding, but others have found no difference at all.
It’s also known that THC comes out in milk when the mother uses marijuana during breastfeeding. THC and its metabolites come out in the baby’s stool, indicating that the baby is absorbing the THC.
When it comes to the use of any drug during pregnancy, medical professionals must weigh the pros and cons.