Marijuana: Breastfeeding Safe? Unbiased Facts

With many states considering the legalization of marijuana, breastfeeding mothers may be wondering if they can smoke marijuana while breastfeeding. As a breastfeeding mother from one of the only states that does have and has had legalized recreational in-home use of marijuana, (Alaska) this is not a question that had occurred to me, but one I have heard often.

marijuana breastfeeding

Do doctors deem marijuana breastfeeding safe?

The jury is out on this one so to speak. There is no doubt that when a mother consumes marijuana in any way, the THC, or active ingredient, is afterward present in the infant’s urine and feces for up to three weeks from one use. What doctors seem torn about is whether this transference causes determent to the baby. Most doctors at this current time take a similar stance to whether marijuana use while breastfeeding to that of breastfeeding while smoking tobacco. It is best to stop, okay to slow use, and may be unhealthy to use heavily.

What effects could marijuana use while breastfeeding cause?

There have actually been studies done on the subject. Marijuana has been shown to decrease milk supply in mothers due to lowered levels of the hormone that causes lactation. Marijuana has also been shown to cause sedation, lethargy, and weak feeding in infants with regular use. The combination of the two could cause weight gain or other health issues in your baby.

One study found that babies that were exposed to marijuana during early developmental stages (to be exact before 3 months of age) by breastfeeding mothers showed poor gross motor development by one year of age. Another study done on animals showed DNA and RNA mutation present in subjects fed breast milk from marijuana exposed mothers. The effects of these mutations are unknown. Some researchers suggest marijuana use while breastfeeding may affect brain cell growth in the baby, however studies on infant mental development showed no decrease in infants that fed from mothers who regularly used marijuana.

Infants that are present when marijuana is smoked are also exposed to second hand smoke. This alone has been shown to increase the risk of SIDS.

So, Marijuana, breastfeeding safe?

That’s entirely up to you. Most of the studies done on the effects were done on chronic users who smoked at least once a day. Detrimental effects include decreased milk supply, weakness, poor suckling in the infant, and gross motor developmental stunting when exposed before the third month of life. DNA and RNA mutation are possible. The exact effects of marijuana use while breastfeeding are unknown and as a mother, I find unknown a good reason to not use. If you must, I would recommend only occasional use after the third month of life.

Debilitation: The Secret Downside to Breastfeeding

While I certainly wouldn’t consider it sufficient cause to lose the wealth of benefits breastfeeding offers your baby, there is an unspoken downside to breastfeeding, especially if you have a piglet on your hands. I had my third child on October 2, 2012, and until he was about 3 months old, I had become what you’d call a stationary feeding machine. My baby literally ate nearly constantly, except at night. He allowed me a good night’s sleep, at least.

What do I mean by debilitation caused by breastfeeding?

downside to breastfeedingOf all the “mom struggles” out there, I’d say breastfeeding debilitation gets me the most. When breastfeeding you do have to sit down and feed your baby. At least for me, thanks to a very healthy eater, this leaves me sitting there staring at all the things I need to do, and have the motivation to do, that I can’t do, because I’m a human bottle. I’m certainly not saying I don’t enjoy the bonding experience that is breastfeeding, but when you have a baby that only takes short breaks from the boob you inevitably start to fall behind on the necessary evils of existence, like laundry and dishes, and are left helplessly watching as your work piles up. It’s extremely frustrating.

What can you do?

Nothing. It’s taken me three children to admit this, but there is honestly no answer unless you are talented enough to breastfeed while doing other things that aren’t done while sitting down. What I can recommend is you try not to focus on what you’re not getting done, and instead focus on what you are. You are improving your baby’s health. You are getting to enjoy one of the greatest joys in motherhood, and it will not last forever. Breast feeding debilitation is generally at its worst in the first three months of life. As your baby gets older, like my baby, he or she will begin eating less and have longer periods of active awake time, so try to enjoy all the snugly feeding time you can now.

It’s also possible you have what’s known as a comfort feeder, meaning sometimes your baby is nursing because he or she is actually hungry, and other times, because it’s comforting. If this is the case, you can attempt removing your baby from your breast when he or she has slowed down nursing and is only intermittently suckling. You may have luck using a pacifier in this instance as well, if you choose to use one. Some mothers also opt to supplement with formula for a feeding or two a day, so they can keep up with daily needs or pump and store breast milk for this purpose. If you choose any sort of artificial nipple be sure breastfeeding is properly established to avoid nipple confusion.

Storing Breast Milk: A Complete Guide to Breast Milk Storage

Storing breast milk can eliminate one of the few  perceived disadvantages of breast feeding, restriction. While a bottle-fed baby can be left with another family member while you’re free to do other things, a breast fed baby is tied to the breast, literally. By pumping, storing, and then bottling breast milk, your breast fed baby can be bottle fed. This is especially helpful for travel, work, attempting to increase breast milk supply, and/or any other situation that requires breast milk without your breast present.

This simple step-by-step guide on storing breast milk will cover the safety precautions, do’s and don’ts of, and the process of storing breast milk for later use.storing breast milk

Refrigeration of breast milk:

For short term storage of breast milk, refrigeration is the best route to take. Breast milk does need to be kept cold or like cow’s milk it will spoil. Breast milk does, however, spoil less quickly than regular milk due to the antibodies that are present within it. These same antibodies are what make breast milk so healthy for your baby.

Breast milk will keep three to four hours at room temperature and three to five days in the refrigerator. If you aren’t sure you’ll use the milk in this time period it should be frozen.

Storing breast milk in the refrigerator:

-Pump and label the milk with a clear date including day, month, and year.

Once pumped, breast milk should be stored in sterile, air-tight containers. To prevent waste use containers the average size of one feeding for your baby. This is typically two to four ounces.

-Place in refrigerator kept within the temperature ranges of 32 F to 39F (0-3.9 C) 

Don’t keep over five days at the most.

Freezing breast milk:

Freezing breast milk allows for longer-term storage and bulk reserves. This is useful in the event you become ill or require medication unsafe for breast feeding, because a stock pile of milk in the freezer allows breast feeding to continue safely during this time. As a note, if you will be feeding stored milk rather than breast feeding for any extended amount of time you will need to continue to pump and dump to retain milk supply. 
Freezing breast milk does destroy a certain amount of the antibodies within the milk, however, it’s still healthier than formula. Frozen breast milk will keep up to even a year if kept in the proper temperature range.

Storing breast milk in the freezer.

-Pump and label milk with a clear date.
When packaging breast milk for freezing be sure to leave some room at the top of the container as frozen liquids expand. You may find bags more convenient than plastic tubes, because they stack easily and are less prone to crack.

-Store the milk in the following temperature ranges for desired store times. 

*Two to four weeks: Can be kept in a freezer compartment within the refrigerator that has a temperature below 32 F.

*Three to four months: Can be kept in a freezer unit connected to a refrigerator with a temperature range below 0 F.

*Six months to one year: Must be stored in deep freeze. Temperature should remain below -19 F. Do not store in door.

Stored breast milk will have a different appearance than fresh milk. This is normal. The milk will separate and have layers. Thawed milk also sometimes tastes or smells soapy. This is due to the break down of fats and is also normal. Most babies don’t mind this. If milk smells rancid or you question whether its good it’s better to throw it away.

Re-heating Breast Milk:

Frozen milk is best pulled 24 hours in advance and left to thaw in the refrigerator. It can also  be run under warm water to decrease thaw time.

Breast milk shouldn’t be reheated in the microwave. This is not only because the heating destroys some nutritional content of the milk, but because it creates hot spots and heats the milk unevenly. You can use a breast-milk warmer or simply warm some water on the stove and place the bottle within it to reheat the milk. Don’t bring breast milk up to the boiling point. Always be sure to test the temperature of the milk on the underside of your wrist before feeding it to your baby.

After the initial re-heating any remaining breast milk can be kept in the refrigerator for no longer than twenty four hours, it shouldn’t be refrozen and should be thrown away after the 24-hour mark.