As an obstetrics nurse, many of my patients asked questions about smoking marijuana during their pregnancies and while breastfeeding. Many mothers thought that smoking marijuana occasionally while pregnant was normal and safe.

But like any drug, marijuana has risks during pregnancy. After delivery, the risks continue for baby when a mother may be breastfeeding.

Here’s what you need to know about smoking marijuana while breastfeeding.

The concern with any substance that a mother ingests while breastfeeding is that it will be passed on to her baby. This happens through her breast milk.

This is true of anything a breastfeeding mom eats or takes in. Everything can be passed on to a baby, from medication for a headache, to a morning cup of coffee, to a bar of chocolate.

Any mother whose had a baby with a fussy stomach knows how even the slightest substance can affect them. One of my daughters, for example, was incredibly sensitive to me eating chocolate. Even one bite would cause her to spit up.

Breastfeeding mothers are producing food for their babies. For this reason, it's important to know how much marijuana might be passed on to your little one and how it will affect them.

So how much marijuana is passed on to your baby through your breast milk? Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut answer. A recent small study found that nursing women who smoke marijuana transfer low levels of cannabis’ main psychoactive ingredient, THC, to their children via breast milk.

The main compound in marijuana is called Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC can be passed on to a baby through breast milk. But the exact amount depends on how often the mother smokes, the timing of smoking to when she breastfeeds, and if she's a long-term marijuana user.

THC lingers in the body in fat stores for long-term users. If you're using marijuana often, it may be hanging around in your body long after you've smoked.

The main concern with marijuana in breast milk is the potential for short- and long-term damage for a nursing baby.

Some of these concerns include:

  • decreased motor development
  • altered brain development
  • lethargy
  • less frequent and shorter feeding times, resulting in delayed growth

For a breastfeeding mother, smoking marijuana might result in a decrease in milk production. A mother may also be affected by marijuana and unable to care for her baby properly.

Marijuana is passed on to baby through breast milk. What’s unclear is the amount that your baby ingests and the long-term effects.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) takes a strong stance against using marijuana while breastfeeding. It’s so dangerous because of the potential long-term effects on your child’s neurobehavioral development.

Mothers who are addicted to narcotics can continue to breastfeed if they’re enrolled in a program to help them quit. They also need to be screened for other diseases, like HIV.

If you use marijuana as a way to reduce stress, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about alternative forms of coping.

Breastfeeding and caring for a new infant can be a very stressful time in a mother’s life. But it’s important not to fall back into an old habit to help relieve stress.

Instead of relying on something that could cause harm to your baby, it's important to acknowledge the stress and seek out help when you need it. Talk to your doctor and be aware of the signs of postpartum depression. You may want to explore other means of stress management, such as therapy, support groups for new and breastfeeding moms, regular exercise, socializing with friends, and meditation. You can find resources through your hospital or local branch of La Leche League.

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