Breastfeeding: Is occasional marijuana use safe?

I was an occasional marijuana smoker before I became pregnant and have been avoiding it throughout my pregnancy. Quite frankly, I miss it. I was wondering what would be the "lesser of two evils": Smoking a small amount of marijuana once or twice a month -- while baby is at Grandma's of course -- and continuing to breastfeed (discarding contaminated milk) OR, only breastfeeding for short time (a month or so) until I begin smoking again? What affect does smoking marijuana have on breastmilk?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Marijuana (cannabis) is the most widely used illegal drug. In a recent government survey it was found that over 70 million people over the age of 12 (in the US) have tried marijuana at least once. They also estimated that five million Americans smoke marijuana at least once a week. The question of whether or not it is safe to smoke marijuana does become an issue for many nursing mothers.

Here are some of the facts:

  • In 1990, a study by Astley and Little found that exposure to marijuana through their mother's milk, during the first month of life resulted in decreased motor development at one year of age.
  • Another study showed no difference in outcome for women who smoked marijuana during lactation.
  • Often when a mother smokes marijuana, her baby is (doubly) exposed to the drug through her milk, and through second-hand smoke.
  • There is significant brain growth occurring during a baby's first months of life. Marijuana may alter brain cells.
  • DNA and RNA metabolism may be affected as it has been shown in animals whose mother's milk contained cannabis (Nahas, 1974, 1975.)
  • Babies whose mothers smoke marijuana regularly have a higher risk of SIDS. (Reducing the Risks of Cot Death, Sudden Infant Death Research Foundation)
  • Use of marijuana affects a mother's ability to be able to care for her baby.
  • Babies who are exposed to marijuana will test positive for the drug in their urine for two to three weeks after their mother's use. THC is the active ingredient and it is secreted into milk in moderate amounts. The drug is readily absorbed and metabolized.
  • Marijuana has been placed in the category of drugs that are contraindicated for breastfeeding mothers by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs.

Reference:

Medications and Mothers' Milk, Thomas Hale, R.Ph., Ph.D., 1996

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