Curiosity around the therapeutic uses for CBD has reached a fever pitch, but is it safe when you're nursing? Here's what experts say.

By Maressa Brown
October 14, 2019
Illustration by Emma Darvick

Pregnancy is one thing, but life postpartum often comes with a variety of mental and physical challenges. As many as one in five women suffer from postpartum depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other concerns include anxiety, chronic pain, and insomnia, all compounded by the lack of sleep and hormonal shifts that naturally occur after giving birth. It's no wonder more new parents are gravitating to CBD, or cannabidiol, a component of either a marijuana or hemp plant that is non-psychoactive (unlike THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which only comes from marijuana).

CBD has been touted as the active ingredient in a variety of therapeutic products that boast anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-psychotic, anti-convulsant, and antidepressant properties. But is it safe if you're breastfeeding your child?

Here's what nursing parents need to know about CBD.

What the Science Says About Using CBD While Breastfeeding

Research has focused primarily on THC, as opposed to CBD, in breast milk, and the conclusion is that it is possible to pass low levels of the psychoactive ingredient to your baby this way. A study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology looked at samples of breast milk from eight anonymous test subjects who regularly use cannabis and found that babies who were three to five months old and who were breastfed exclusively ingested an estimated 2.5 percent of the maternal dose of THC. (Researchers didn't, however, take blood samples from the infants to see if they had measurable levels of THC in their bodies.)

And trying to "pump and dump" doesn't work for cannabis products, as chemicals from cannabis that entered the body days or weeks prior to breastfeeding can make their way into breast milk, according to Medical News Today. In fact, other research published in the journal Pediatrics found that low levels of THC may be found in breast milk for up to six days after smoking cannabis or eating an edible.

Granted, this research was done on marijuana and THC, not hemp and CBD. But experts are concerned about the effect of any cannabinoid on an infant's brain development.

"We truly do not know what short- or long-term impact on the baby it may have," says Felice Gersh, M.D., a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist and author of PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist's Lifeline To Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness

Is CBD safe while breastfeeding?

"Having a new baby is stressful, and some women may wish to turn to cannabis products," Dr. Gersh notes. But the limited data on its safety—and the fact that it will pass into breast milk—makes it difficult for many experts to advise its use for nursing parents.

"Unfortunately, there is no safety data to allow a doctor to recommend the use of cannabis or CBD," says Dr. Gersh.

Mary Clifton, M.D., an internal medicine doctor in New York City agrees, stating, "If a new mom is breastfeeding, it’s probably not wise to use CBD. The medical community doesn’t support the use of CBD in these settings, because proper studies can't be completed on the effect on the baby or infant."

Despite the lack of published research, new parents have used cannabinoids for thousands of years, notes Robert Flannery, PhD, owner of Dr. Robb Farms. "Yes, THC and CBD are expressed in small quantities in breast milk," Flannery says. And while he doesn't feel comfortable suggesting CBD for a new parent who is breastfeeding, he acknowledges the use of cannabis in the past by breastfeeding mothers.

"We do not have enough research to make claims one way or another on how that breast milk would affect the milk-fed babies," says Flannery. "Cannabis is a medicine that has been used specifically for pregnant and breastfeeding moms for millennia. I will never make a claim without the science to back it up, but we should understand that anecdotal evidence can be used to formulate testable hypotheses to validate the use of cannabis at this time in a mom's life."

Consider the risks vs. benefits

Ultimately, because CBD "has been shown to be little risk to both adults and children" and therefore, "may not pose a problem," it is important to weigh the risk versus benefits for the mom and infant, says Hilary Peckham, the co-founder of Etain Health, the only all-women, family owned medical marijuana dispensary company in New York.

For instance, many new parents suffer from postpartum depression suffer from anxiety, fatigue, mood swings and detachment from the infant. "Many sufferers usually start a treatment of antidepressants which may not be appropriate for breastfeeding and may need to discontinue," Peckham says. "Starting CBD may still allow the mother to breastfeed and prolong the bonding time with the infant. Speak to your doctor before starting CBD, especially if you are a new mother."

The Bottom Line

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend physicians counsel moms to abstain from all cannabis products—including CBD—if they wish to breastfeed. However, given the minimal amount of the substance that make its way into breast milk, and the fact that research has yet to confirm the exact effects on an infant, anyone interested in trying CBD while nursing would do well to speak to their doctor.

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