What the latest science says about breastfeeding mothers using cannabis

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A new study by researchers has found no harmful effects on infants due to THC in breast milk of mothers who have used cannabis.

Experts disagree and say that there isn’t enough research to determine if cannabis can be used during breastfeeding.

Most doctors still recommend that breastfeeding mothers refrain from using cannabis while more research is done.

Is it safe to give THC to a baby through breast milk?

OB/GYNs believe that this question is more frequently being asked with legalization of cannabis and the push to use the drug as a natural option over other drugs and easier access.

They say it’s time to dig into the subject.

One possible start is a study that was presented at the virtual American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition on October 8.

The research was not yet published nor peer-reviewed. It examined the medical records for 763 preterm infants between 2014 and 2020.

Researchers discovered that 17 percent of mothers tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol at delivery, one of the active ingredients of marijuana. This indicates that some women use cannabis while pregnant.

The study concluded that preterm infants born to mothers who had tested positive for marijuana at birth were similar in their health to those who received breast milk from their mother.

Healthline spoke with Dr. Natalie L. Davis MMSc, who was the lead author of the study. She is an associate professor of pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine, and a neonatologist at University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.

She said, “It’s really difficult to draw solid conclusions from my research because there is a lot of research needed to fully understand the risks.” “This is only the beginning.”

Davis stated that she was inspired to participate in the study after learning about a hospital which did not allow mothers to breastfeed their premature babies. Davis also said that she had been tested positive for THC.

Davis stated that Davis was convinced that the new mother wanted to breastfeed her baby. She knew breast milk was very beneficial and wanted to bond with her baby.

Davis stated that Davis wouldn’t order her a breastfeeding pump or provide any assistance with lactation because she was positive for THC. Her family was devastated and wanted to learn more about the potential health hazards this situation could pose for babies.

Davis stated that Davis was inspired to study the topic more to better inform new mothers about the health benefits of breastmilk compared to the potential risks of THC.

Access and use

Healthline spoke to Dr. Kathryn Gray who is an attending physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Maternal-Fetal Medicine and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts. She said she has noticed a possible rise in cannabis use by nursing mothers and pregnant women.

She hopes to get more information on this.

Gray stated that Gray believes there is more use and may even be underestimated. It highlights the importance of more study because [cannabis use] seems to be increasing in frequency.

Gray stated that the lack of information at present leaves doctors like Gray with only one choice: to advise pregnant or nursing mothers not use cannabis products.

She cited two studies that provided some clues. A 2018 study found that breast milk only carries about 2 percent of THC from the mother to the baby.

However, the research didn’t examine whether this amount was dangerous.

Gray stated that other studies have shown that THC remains in mothers’ bodies and is passed on via breast milk for at most 8 days, possibly even longer.

Davis explained that this means that nursing mothers can’t use the “pump-and-dump” method to enjoy, say, a glass of wine.

What is the best?

Davis stated that these research findings were not sufficient to make a clear recommendation.

She said, “It’s a shame that we don’t possess any evidence-based science” in order to create a solid platform from which to counsel patients.

Davis stated that this is exactly why Davis took on the first study.

She stated that THC can accumulate in breast milk and be passed on to babies via breast milk. However, she advised mothers to avoid THC use.

Davis stated, “Especially for premature babies, whose brains, and other important organs, are still developing. We just don’t understand what the long-term consequences will be on brain growth and development.”

She hopes that more studies will look deeper at children, be longer with them, and examine school performance and behavior.

“It would be incredible to be able follow these babies longer-term, to learn more about their health after leaving the hospital. Do they have similar developmental milestones or are they behind? How often do they visit the emergency room or urgent care? She said that they had more medical problems than kids who were not exposed to THC.

She added that key factors such as these would allow us to evaluate whether early THC exposure has an impact on their long-term health, both in childhood and later into adulthood.

Gray pointed out that cannabis has been a moving target for information in recent years.

She said, “We have osculated over the years in how we view it.” It’s been difficult.

Gray and Davis agree that for now, the practice of suggesting to nursing mothers to stop using cannabis during nursing should be stopped.

Davis stated that “we still don’t know the longer-term effects, which would really be important to know when making these decisions.”

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