There’s been a recent media outlash following an image posted on social media of a woman toking on a giant bong while breastfeeding her child. Leaving the issue of infant smoke exposure aside, the image raises an important question:
Is it okay for breastfeeding mothers to smoke marijuana?
Unfortunately, this hot-button topic has no easy answer. Though there are many things a woman can consume then pump out of her system until it’s clean (the ol’ pump-and-dump move), cannabinoids have major staying power and can remain in fat cells (like those found in breast milk) for many weeks – even months in some cases – which means that those, too, can be passed to baby.
So, the big question becomes whether or not phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD can affect a developing infant via breastmilk consumption and, if so, how?
Limited Research on Cannabis and Breastfeeding
Cannabis’s Schedule I status is, yet again, making everything more difficult. In this case, it has limited cannabis research so much as to prevent it from being studied on pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in the states. Instead, information must come from either self-proclaimed use (which can get nasty as evidenced in the whole media lynching of the breastfeeding canna-mom mentioned above) or random breastmilk screenings instead of actual controlled study groups.
What little research we do have has looked at prenatal cannabis exposure instead, with results that have been inconclusive. For example, while some studies suggest that prenatal cannabis exposure may cause a decline in cognitive development and increased irritability, others suggest no such trend. Hell, one Jamaican study suggested the opposite – that prenatal cannabis exposure might actually improve sociability, cognition and basic motor functioning – but in all these studies, other variables likely played an important part in determining the final outcome, as well.
What We Know About Cannabinoids and Breastmilk
As with anything else the mother consumers, phytocannabinoids will pass on to an infant via breastmilk which can result in a positive drug test screening. Though it is very rare that a child be screened for drugs (unless there are other underlying concerns, of course), this fear in and of itself is often enough to deter young mothers from using (or at least admitting) cannabis use in the first place.
We also know that anything an infant consumes can have some sort of effect on him/her. Whether these be positive effects like an increased appetite or reduced fussiness; or a negative effect like delayed cognition and reduced motor functioning is, however, unclear. Research has suggested, however, that young children may be less prone to the psychoactive effects of THC compared to adults which is something to consider when weighing the pros and cons of cannabis consumption while breastfeeding.
What’s interesting is that breastmilk already contains high levels of cannabinoids which are designed to stimulate the endocannabinoid system in infants to promote appetite, encourage the “sucking” reflex and improve neurological development.
Though these are certainly not the same cannabinoids as those found in cannabis (and thus will not result in public defamation or stressful legal battles), they all play a vital role in helping us maintain homeostasis.
Risks Associates with Cannabis and Breastfeeding
Though little is understood about the health risks associated with cannabis and breastfeeding, there are other important risk factors to consider before lighting up while breastfeeding. For example, public ridicule could result in a visit from Child Protective Services (CPS). Should an infant test positive for cannabis, CPS may remove the child from the home and require complete abstinence from cannabis to get the child back along with parenting classes and so on.
Divorcing parents may also face custody issues if they breastfeed after consuming cannabis. In much the same way a parent needs to protect themselves from possible CPS intervention, if a divorce is looking nasty, cannabis consumption – especially while breastfeeding – should be avoided if possible.
When it comes to cannabis and breastfeeding, research tells us very little. What we do know is more in terms of the social cost of consuming cannabis while breastfeeding and what that tells us is that it’s just not safe. Even if baby won’t suffer long-term consequences (which is still undetermined anyway), the social repercussions a mother might face for choosing to do so is often caution enough against it.
Unfortunately, until cannabis research catches up with public demand, we will continue to debate whether cannabis consumption is safe while breastfeeding.
Do you think breastfeeding mothers should be allowed to consume cannabis? Why or why not?