Is Smoking Weed While Breast-Feeding Risky?

Medically reviewed by Karen Gill, MD on February 19, 2016Written by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN on February 19, 2016
breastfeeding mother smoking weed

Overview

As an obstetrics nurse, many of my patients asked questions about smoking marijuana during their pregnancies and while breast-feeding. 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 breast-feeding.

Here’s what you need to know about smoking marijuana while breast-feeding.

Marijuana and breast milk

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

This is true of anything a breast-feeding 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.

Breast-feeding 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.

How Much Marijuana Gets Passed Into Breast Milk?

So how much marijuana is passed on to your baby through your breast milk? Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut answer.

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 breast-feeds, 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 Risks

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 breast-feeding 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.

Is It Dangerous to Smoke While Breast-Feeding?

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 breast-feeding. 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 breast-feed if they’re enrolled in a program to help them quit. They also need to be screened for other diseases, like HIV.

The takeaway

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

Breast-feeding 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 breast-feeding 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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