If You Smoke Pot While You Breastfeed, Don’t Pretend There Aren’t Risks

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pot-smoking-momAn Oregon hospital is under fire from an angry mother who was asked to sign a waiver stating that she was aware of the risks of breastfeeding her infant while smoking marijuana. The mother, Crystal Cain, says that she was not allowed to breastfeed until she signed the form. I say, “Yes. And the problem is…?”

According to Cain, a card-holding medical marijuana user who also smoked during her pregnancy on the advice of her midwife, “There are several studies that indicate that it doesn’t, it can’t transfer through your milk ducts.” I don’t want to tell anyone not to trust Cain’s medical advice, but the fact is that most studies agree that THC does, in fact, get passed through breastmilk, and has been found in both breastmilk and the urine of breastfed infants. The question is, what effect does it have on babies, if any? That’s where the medical community is unsure.

Obviously, the effect of marijuana use on infants isn’t the kind of thing you can do a controlled scientific study on (can’t have one group of randomly selected pregnant women smoke pot and another group not to test the differences on their babies). Past studies have been on women who both admitted to using marijuana and were willing to be studied. Some of those studies found that occasional use while breastfeeding had no side effects on infants while daily or near daily use can cause a decrease in motor development and an increased risk of SIDS. There are also studies showing that there are potential risks to smoking marijuana while pregnant, one of which is the risk of premature birth and delayed onset of breathing, something that Cain’s baby, who was born almost two months premature and required time on an incubator, experienced.

Now that medical marijuana is legal in two states, however, more information on the effect on newborns should start coming in. But we aren’t there yet. And the fact that there are questions and that the American Academy of Pediatrics currently advises against the use of marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding, makes Oregon Heath and Sciences University hospital’s actions one-hundred percent a-okay. As their chief medical officer, Dr. Charles Kilo, said,  “We…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.”

“I’m saying there’s not enough information because nobody tests it,” says Cain, “It’s such a touchy subject that nobody wants to mess with it.”

She’s right. There’s not enough information. But until we know for sure, can we put away our self-righteousness and just sign the damn waiver? There’ll be plenty of time for I-told-you-so later.

(photo: William Casey/ Shutterstock)