More on marijuana

You have listed possible effects of marijuana use while nursing. I understand all the studies that come out against it, but if they can't prove anything, then perhaps they are just stating their unproven hypothesis. Anyway, if you do smoke marijuana should you discard the first milk? How long is it excreted in your milk?

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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

Any drug (or herb) needs to be used with caution, whether nursing or not. Most medications (herbal and otherwise) can have side effects.

An important concern with the use of any mind-altering drug is how it will affect a parent's ability to care for their child. When a mom or dad is high, child care may be the very last thing on their mind!

Even if there were no evidence that marijuana affects the nursing baby/child, I could not recommend its use. In the United States as you know, it is classified as an illegal drug. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs also states that marijuana is contraindicated for use by breastfeeding mothers.

As far as the research indicating that there is an increased possibility of SIDS (Reducing the Risks of Cot Death, Sudden Infant Death Research Foundation), decreased motor development (Astley and Little 1990) and possible alteration of brain cells, I don't believe most parents would be willing to take that risk (theoretical or not) with their child's development at this crucial time.

In the scientific community, you are right, one study alone should not alter the way we look at an illness or a drug. We really need scientific consensus. In the absence of conclusive studies, I feel it is wise to look at the body of evidence.

You might want to ask yourself these questions:

  • How might my baby be affected by my use of marijuana?
  • Am I willing to take the risk if there are any short-term or long-term effects on my baby?

When marijuana is smoked regularly there is a good chance the baby will not only be getting the drug through his mother's milk, but also through second-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke from cigarettes or marijuana is harmful to a baby, and may make him more prone to developing allergies, asthma and ear infections.

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. That's a long time for it to be staying in their system. And as you probably know, it sticks around for quite some time in adults too. Marijuana has a long half life -- 25 to 57 hours (Hale 1996). That means 50 percent of the drug will leave your system (and mother's milk) in that period of time. In the next 25 to 57 hours, 25% more will leave your system, and in the next 25 to 57 hours 12.5 percent, and so on. As you can see, even at 75 hours (three days) to 171 hours (over six days) all the drug has not yet cleared from your system. Marijuana is also stored in fat tissues for several weeks to months. This clearance is assuming that you don't smoke marijuana again within the next three to six days.

Liz Baldwin, a nationally known attorney specializing in breastfeeding and the law states, "Parents considering using illegal substances have more than just the medical effects of the drug on the baby to look at. There can be serious legal consequences that should be considered as well. Let's assume that something happens to the baby or the mother, that is unrelated to the drugs. If either the mother or baby were tested and found positive for illegal drugs while in the hospital, criminal consequences could result. A social service agency could be called in. If the baby died, even for something unrelated to the drugs, and it was found in the baby's system, there is a risk of being charged with child endangerment, manslaughter, or even murder. Like it or not, there have been cases to that effect."

I hope my letter helps to clarify this issue for you.

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