Parenting experts consider breastfeeding to be the preferred method for feeding a newborn, since breast milk is packed with nutrients and disease-fighting ingredients that keep infants healthy. As such an important part of a baby’s immune system, mothers should make sure there is nothing contaminating their breast milk, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, that includes marijuana. As a medical marijuana cardholder, Oregon mother Crystal Cain says she is not worried about smoking pot while breastfeeding, but her doctors, on the other hand, are concerned.
Cain’s daughter, Karrisma, was born this past Wednesday at Oregon Health Science University eight weeks premature and required an incubator to help keep her alive. Cain, who was smoking marijuana throughout her pregnancy after having it prescribed to treat nausea and anxiety, said she had planned to breastfeed her daughter, but her doctors had their doubts about what further damage THC-tainted breast milk could do to her infant’s health.
“She's going to be OK, they said,” Cain told KOMONews. “They took her off of all of her breathing machines yesterday and they gave her a trial run and they say she's doing absolutely fine. They're refusing to allow me to breastfeed.” With recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, as well as medical marijuana legalization in Oregon, Cain believes circumstances such as her own will become all too frequent.
“There are several studies that indicate that it doesn't,” Cain said when asked if she thought THC could pass from mother to child via breast milk. “It can't transfer through your milk ducts. Your body automatically kind of filters it. I'm saying there's not enough information because nobody tests it. It's such a touchy subject that nobody wants to mess with it."
Doctors at OHSU are not the only experts to advise against cannabis use while breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics lists marijuana as one of the drugs that can lead to adverse effects on infants during breastfeeding. One of the most important periods of neurological development for a child occurs in the first couple of months after being born, which is why THC exposure may not be best for the brain. One of the earliest studies on marijuana and breastfeeding back in 1990 associated early THC exposure with impaired motor development at 12 months.
“We had the mom sign a waiver acknowledging the use of marijuana and the potential risks involved in it,” Dr. Charles Kilo, OHSU’s chief medical officer, told KOMONews. “We do understand the benefits of mothers' milk. We also don't want to be caught in a situation where a mother continues to use and says that we never gave her information on it, never informed about the risks, and so it's really a way of documenting that the parents acknowledge the risks. And we can't stop her from using it.”