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Marijuana Exposure and Your Baby

Written by Kayla Benado, IBCLC on in Health & Wellness

Marijuana use while breastfeeding may cause long-term child development issues for a baby.

Marijuana use while breastfeeding may cause long-term child development issues for a baby.

As we all know, the legalization of marijuana has gained momentum across our nation. There are new billboards, dispensaries, and products popping up by the minute in California, including Lompoc. With this legalization and newfound ubiquity, people are considering marijuana use to be more socially acceptable and becoming willing to discuss usage more openly in their communities and with their medical providers. Though research on marijuana use during pregnancy and postpartum is lacking compared to other commonly abused substances such as alcohol, there are many risk factors and health effects that we know exist--as well as potential risks that should be known to all expecting and breastfeeding parents.

Marijuana Use and Pregnancy

Research tells us that the THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) in marijuana passes through the placenta to your baby’s brain and can have multiple negative effects on your baby's birth and development. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH), marijuana use during pregnancy may lead to the following adverse outcomes at birth:

  • Lower birth weight
  • Preterm birth
  • Higher incidence of NICU admission
  • Stillbirth
  • Small head circumference
  • Developmental delays
  • Increased startle and tremors
  • Altered sleep patterns

These institutions report that 7-10 percent of pregnant women self-report marijuana use during pregnancy while 19percentof pregnant women ages 18-25 screen positive for marijuana use. Studies also show that 34-60 percent of women who use marijuana continue their use during pregnancy. Women who choose to use marijuana while pregnant report doing so for anxiety, depression, stress, pain, nausea, and vomiting, especially during the first trimester. There are currently no FDA-approved medications derived from cannabis that support claims of treating pregnancy-related conditions such as nausea and vomiting.

Marijuana and Breastfeeding

THC and other chemicals found in marijuana can also be transferred to your baby postpartum via breast milk. Because of the fat-solubility of THC, the amount stored in your body and that which your baby is exposed to can vary greatly depending on dosage and frequency and can extend over longer periods of time, ranging from 6 days to 6 weeks after use. Research regarding marijuana exposure via breast milk is still evolving regarding its ability to affect infant motor and mental development. We know that marijuana use can lead to lower breast milk production, altered breast milk composition, and a decrease in breastfeeding duration. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advise pregnant or breastfeeding women to abstain from marijuana use in all forms.

Potential Long-term Effects on Child Development

In addition to the research on pregnancy and breastfeeding, multiple studies have shown the potential for drug use effects on child development to persist into adolescence and adulthood. These risk factors include:

  • Decreased executive functioning (i.e., the ability to plan, focus, remember and multitask)
  • Impulsivity
  • Hyperactivity
  • Lower academic achievement
  • Increased incidence of substance abuse in adolescence and adulthood

Though additional research is needed, what we know now is enough data to urge you to abstain from all marijuana use strongly while you are pregnant or breastfeeding to help ensure your baby is healthy.

If you or someone you care about is pregnant and using a drug such as marijuana or has a substance use disorder, there is help available. Try these resources:

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Author: Kayla Benado, IBCLC, Lactation Consultant

Kayla Benado, InternationalBoard CertifiedLactation Consultant (IBCLC), is an LVMC Lactation Consultant. She earned her bachelor of science degree in Child and Family Development, with a minor in psychology, from San Diego State University. Kayla received her certificate in Lactation Consultant Education from the University of California, San Diego Extension. She has worked in a wide variety of hospital and education settings as a lactation consultant.