In honor of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month, we’re exploring the relationship between cannabis and lactation. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) celebrates World Breastfeeding Week annually to create awareness about breastfeeding and its advantages. The campaign aims to support and educate mothers as they make the decision to breastfeed or not. As a mother or mother-to-be who consumes cannabis, there are some extra factors to consider when making this decision.
World Breastfeeding Week: Educating Mothers Across the Globe
World Breastfeeding Week, organized by WABA, has been running since 1992. The campaign highlights various topics related to breastfeeding, including its interesting history. For example, National Today explains that Hera’s milk (the breastmilk of a Greek goddess) was believed to have superpowers, such as immortality. The introduction of infant formulas drove many women away from traditional breastfeeding since the formula was a more convenient source of food for babies, but WABA continues to encourage mothers worldwide to breastfeed if it is safe and possible for them to do so.
Breastfeeding is the act of feeding a baby milk from the breast. According to Cleveland Clinic, breastfeeding can be beneficial for both the mother and baby by:
- Cultivating stronger immune systems
- Improving digestive processes
- Preventing infections
- Improving vision
- Reducing rates of infant mortality
- Lowering the risk of postpartum disorders for the mother
An important part of breastfeeding is a process known as lactation. Cleveland Clinic explains lactation as “the process of making human milk,” in which the milk is produced and released by mammary glands in the breasts. Lactation begins when hormonal changes signal to the mammary glands to begin producing milk in preparation for the baby. The milk can be fed to the baby via breastfeeding or by pumping the milk into bottles for later use.
The benefits of lactation, much like the benefits of breastfeeding, include the likes of protection against allergies, sickness, and obesity, as well as easy digestion. Considering that breast milk is produced by the body and administered directly to the baby, the question of whether cannabis consumption impacts the quality of breastmilk is an important one.
What We Know About Cannabis and Lactation
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the percentage of pregnant women who consume cannabis rose from 2.37% in 2002 to 3.85% in 2014. This may not seem like a significant number, but the fact that it is increasing means education and awareness about the practice should be increasing as well. There’s just one problem: Very little definitive data from research initiatives exists on the topic of cannabis consumption and lactation.
The Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Women’s Mental Health explains that there is enough data available to understand how cannabis consumption during pregnancy impacts fetal growth and brain development, but there is far less—nearly nonexistent—information available on whether cannabis is secreted into breast milk and how lactation may be affected.
Here’s what we know:
- Endocannabinoids are naturally present in breast milk and play a critical role in nourishing newborn development according to research.
- Cannabinoids can be detected in breast milk regardless of the consumption method.
- How much of the cannabis compounds is secreted into the milk differs from person to person.
- Due to women’s generally higher fat percentages (compared to men), it takes cannabis much longer to leave the body since cannabis is fat-soluble (or lipophilic). Similarly, cannabis can be detected in breast milk long after consumption and even long after the effects of cannabis have faded.
- The longevity of THC in breast milk is probably related to the high amount of fat present in breast milk. In fact, MGH describes breast milk as “acting like a reservoir for THC storage.”
- It does not appear that cannabis impacts any of the process and effectiveness of lactation itself. Instead, the risk of consuming cannabis while lactating stems from the fact that the cannabinoids could be stored in breast milk and transferred to the infant, which can have an impact on the infant’s development.
- The impact of cannabis on infants who were exposed to cannabis through breast milk is plagued by conflicting research data. Some research found, for example, decreased motor development in infants exposed to cannabis through breast milk, while other research found no difference between the groups of infants who were and weren’t exposed to cannabis through breast milk.
If you would like to know more about breastfeeding and cannabis, be sure to check out this post.
Final Thoughts on Cannabis and Breastfeeding
The 2022 Breastfeeding Week theme is “Step up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support” in an effort to raise awareness about sustainable breastfeeding environments and the benefits of breastfeeding itself. In the spirit of breastfeeding education, it is important for mothers to start discussing what role their cannabis consumption plays in pregnancy and postpartum with their families and doctors.
Because there is still so much controversy and missing information regarding cannabis consumption and breastfeeding, it’s advised that mothers should refrain from using cannabis for as long as possible during pregnancy and while feeding the infant(s) breast milk. In the meantime, researchers are amping up their search for answers to the question of whether a mother’s cannabis consumption is dangerous for the baby or not.
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