'Only Risk'

Why pregnant or breastfeeding mothers should avoid cannabis

Is it safe to smoke pot while breastfeeding? This question has been trending across mommy blogs, health sites and through cannabis culture lately as marijuana continues to be decriminalized.

Some argue that marijuana can lead to sudden infant death syndrome, attention deficit disorder and other serious medical issues, but many believe that it is a natural herb that if used properly is harmless. For ethical reasons, research on the subject is limited — a scientific study would require one half of a pool of breastfeeding mothers to smoke weed — and gleaned from retrospective studies or inferred from studies of adolescents.

"Honestly, the answer is we don't know," says Dr. Douglas Barber, director of the Sacred Heart Center for Maternal Fetal Medicine. "But this is a scenario where there could only be harm. No benefit."

According to Barber, what is known is that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is a soluble lipid that can be passed to babies through breast milk, and that THC in adolescents and adults has been proven to cause visual impairment and negative impacts on short-term memory, among other effects.

In addition, THC also stays within the body for 20 to 36 hours, rendering ineffective the "pump and dump" practice many new moms use with alcohol.

Beyond transference, Barber also warns that smoking marijuana puts babies at the same secondhand smoke risks as tobacco smoking and could negatively impact a mother's ability to care for her child.

"You could certainly see respiratory disorders from secondhand smoke," Barber says. "And you never know how it could affect the mother functionally."

There are no known ongoing large or slated studies to research the effects of marijuana on breastfeeding mothers, but Barber suspects that with legalization, women will be more willing to disclose their use, effectively adding more information to the proverbial pot of information on the topic.

In the meantime, Barber advises his patients to abstain.

"We don't recommend that women actively use marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding," Barber said. "This drug in particular probably only carries risk." ♦

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