When crippling postpartum PTSD set in, I knew had to do something. I chose to use marijuana—despite breastfeeding—and it saved me.

By Annie Thomas*
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

I'm writing this piece with a pen name, which should tell you something about the controversial nature of the topic at hand: marijuana use while breastfeeding.

Marijuana use while pregnant is, naturally, an even more controversial topic. Similarly to the debate about having a glass of wine every once in a while during pregnancy, you'll find people who feel OK about light and occasional marijuana use while pregnant and people who think it warrants a call to the authorities. In turn, many moms-to-be quietly do what they feel is best.

I chose not to use marijuana while pregnant, despite being a longtime marijuana user. Marijuana has always helped me to relax, navigate my anxiety, and generally helped me feel slightly more content. The plant has had a positive effect on my creative endeavors and sleep quality, too. I could have used the benefits marijuana brings me during pregnancy, especially with the nausea and pain I experienced throughout, but I decided not to.

However, when my baby finally started eating solids, I did begin using marijuana again—even though she was still breastfeeding and would for another year and a half. 

I didn't have marijuana daily and when I did, I vaporized. That may not matter much, but since we do know that smoke isn't good for a fetus or a child, I did not smoke. But the questions on this issue largely surround THC in cannabis, not ingestion method. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines on marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding for the first time last August, and advised women not to partake at all. Marijuana use during pregnancy, the report says, can have a negative effect on brain development. And using marijuana while breastfeeding is “discouraged” because of the limited research on its effects on the infant.   

Despite lack of data, I scoured the Internet for every scrap of research I could find. I also spoke with countless moms in online groups and in real life before I made my decision to begin having THC again. I learned THC is indeed passed through breast milk to a nursing baby. It's stored in the fat of the milk, so it stays in the system and the milk longer than other substances that aren't fat-soluble. One study found that THC remained in milk for up to six days after use.  

In the end, especially when considering how little actually passes through to the milk (one of the only controlled studies that exists on this topic showed that exclusively nursing babies with mothers who used THC regularly still only received 2.5 percent of the maternal THC dose), I became comfortable with it.

I didn't start using marijuana while breastfeeding for fun. I started using it because I was suffering from a nearly crippling case of postpartum PTSD (it affects about 9 percent of women). I didn't have the financial freedom to not work and I didn't have a lot of help with my baby during that time, either. And, importantly, I didn't like myself. I didn't even recognize myself sometimes.

When your birth experience is so traumatic that you transfer all medical care out of that specific facility and take time-wasting detours to avoid driving along the same road as that hospital, it's difficult to feel like yourself. When your heart races every time you hear a siren, and an emergency C-section scene on TV can send you into full-blown panic, something needs to be done.

I needed a solution. Despite having a long-standing prescription for the anti-anxiety medication, Clonazepam, I felt more comfortable bringing marijuana back into my life than I did taking a highly addictive benzodiazepine regularly.

Once I started using marijuana again, my PTSD symptoms began to subside. It took time, but considering they'd only been worsening since giving birth, steps in the opposite direction were encouraging. Eventually, the flashbacks that would come out of nowhere and paralyze me stopped. Eventually, I was able to drive on that hospital road and hear sirens without having a meltdown.

I also never noticed a single impact on my daughter—not then and not now, four years later. Not only is she fine, she's far ahead of where she's expected to be academically and athletically, and she’s extraordinarily talented in the arts. I doubt THC has even one tiny bit to do with these accolades, but it did (and does) have something to do with her mom's well-being, which could have something to do with my daughter's achievements. We know the climate of a home can influence a child's development and I feel much better about the role I play in my home's climate with THC in the picture than without.

I know myself and know how marijuana has helped my anxiety throughout my life, so I have no doubt that marijuana is what rescued me. It saved me for myself and it saved me as a mother for my daughter. My perfectly advanced child got a tiny bit of THC (amid all kinds of permissible substances, like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol) in her system while breastfeeding and I feel fine about it. And I feel more than fine about her having a mom who can live a life with a less terrifying reality than the one mine was becoming four years ago.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the contributor.

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