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. FDA strongly advises against the use of cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and marijuana in any form during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. When it comes to life for a new mom, there are a ton of questions both during pregnancy and after. How much does what you put in your body affect your baby? What’s considered safe? What isn’t? And are there natural alternatives that are better for you and your child than prescription medications that may […]
CBD and Breastfeeding: Is It Safe?
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.
Maressa Brown is a seasoned lifestyle journalist, writer, and astrologer. In addition to being a regular contributor to Parents.com, her bylines appear on InStyle, Shape, What to Expect, Cosmopolitan, et al. She is the author of a forthcoming parenting title to be published by Artisan Books in early 2023. A graduate of Emerson College, she’s based in Los Angeles.
Pregnancy is one thing, but postpartum life 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 to use CBD while breastfeeding? Here’s what nursing parents need to know about CBD.
- RELATED: Which Medications Are Safe While Breastfeeding?
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 while nursing. 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 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 parent 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, Ph.D, owner of Dr. Robb Farms. “Yes, THC and CBD are expressed in small quantities in breast milk,” Dr. 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.
“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 Dr. Flannery. “Cannabis is a medicine that has been used specifically for pregnant and breastfeeding parents 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 one’s life.”
Risks Vs. Benefits of CBD While Breastfeeding
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 breastfeeding parent and the 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, anxiety, fatigue, mood swings and detachment from the infant. “Many sufferers start a treatment of antidepressants which may not be appropriate for breastfeeding and may need to be discontinued,” Peckham says. “Starting CBD may still allow the parent to breastfeed and prolong the bonding time with the infant. That said, you should speak to your doctor before starting CBD, especially if you are breastfeeding.”
The Bottom Line
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend physicians counsel parents 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.
What You Should Know About Using Cannabis, Including CBD, When Pregnant or Breastfeeding
FDA strongly advises against the use of cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and marijuana in any form during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
Cannabis and Cannabis-derived products have become increasingly available in recent years, with new and different types of products appearing all the time. These products raise questions and concerns for many consumers. And if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you might have even more questions about whether these products are safe for you.
FDA strongly advises against the use of cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and marijuana in any form during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
What are cannabis, marijuana, hemp, THC and CBD?
Cannabis is a plant of the Cannabaceae family and contains more than eighty biologically active chemical compounds. The most commonly known compounds are THC and CBD. One type of cannabis plant is marijuana, which contains varying levels of THC, the compound that produces the “high” that is often associated with marijuana. Another type of cannabis plant is hemp. Hemp plants contain extremely low amounts of THC. CBD, which does not produce a “high,” can be derived from either marijuana or hemp.
We are now seeing CBD-containing products everywhere. CBD can be found in many different products, like drugs, foods, products marketed as dietary supplements, and cosmetics. These products often make questionable health promises about CBD.
FDA wants you to know there may be serious risks to using cannabis products, including those containing CBD, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What do we know about the effects of marijuana use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding?
There are many potential negative health effects from using marijuana and other products containing THC during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General recently advised consumers that marijuana use during pregnancy may affect fetal brain development, because THC can enter the fetal brain from the mother’s bloodstream. The Surgeon General also advised that marijuana may increase the risk of a newborn with low birth weight. Research also suggests increased risk for premature birth and potentially stillbirth 1 .
While breastfeeding, it is important to know that breastmilk can contain THC for up to six days after use. This THC may affect a newborn’s brain development and result in hyperactivity, poor cognitive function, and other long-term consequences.
Additionally, marijuana smoke contains many of the same harmful components as tobacco smoke. Neither marijuana nor tobacco products should be smoked around a baby or children.
What do we know about the effects of CBD use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding?
There is no comprehensive research studying the effects of CBD on the developing fetus, pregnant mother, or breastfed baby. FDA is continuing to collect and study the data on the possible harmful effects of CBD during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. However, based on what we do know, there is significant cause for concern.
High doses of CBD in pregnant test animals have caused problems with the reproductive system of developing male fetuses 2 . In addition, based on what we already know about CBD, we expect that some amount of CBD will be transferred to babies through breast milk.
We also know that there is a potential for CBD products to be contaminated with substances that may pose a risk to the fetus or breastfed baby, including THC. We have also heard reports of CBD potentially containing other contaminants (e.g., pesticides, heavy metals, bacteria, and fungus); we are investigating this.
Moreover, CBD has known risks for people in general. Based on clinical studies in humans, risks can include the following:
- liver toxicity (damage)
- extreme sleepiness
- harmful interactions with other drugs
FDA is studying the effects of CBD use from different angles, such as: (1) the use of CBD-containing products, like food, cosmetics, or supplements, over a person’s entire life; and (2) the effects of using these various products in combination. There are many unanswered questions about the science, safety, and quality of products containing CBD.
We especially want to learn more about the effects of CBD during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, including, for example, whether and to what extent the presence of CBD in human milk harms the breastfed baby or the mother’s milk production.
Has FDA approved any CBD products and are there any benefits?
FDA has not approved any CBD products except for one prescription drug to treat rare, severe forms of seizure disorders in children. It is still unclear whether CBD has any other benefits.
Other than the one approved prescription drug, CBD products have not been evaluated or approved by FDA for use as drug products. This means that we do not know:
- if they are safe and effective to treat a particular disease
- what, if any, dosage may be considered safe
- how they could interact with other drugs or foods
- whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns
The clinical studies that supported the approval of the one available CBD drug product identified risks related to the use of CBD, including liver toxicity (damage), extreme sleepiness, and harmful interactions with other drugs.
What about hemp seeds?
FDA recently completed an evaluation of some hemp seed-derived food ingredients and had no objections to the use of these ingredients in foods. THC and CBD are found mainly in hemp flowers, leaves, and stems, not in hemp seeds. Hemp seeds can pick up miniscule amounts of THC and CBD from contact with other plant parts, but these amounts are low enough to not raise concerns for any group, including pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.
What should you remember about using cannabis or cannabis-derived products?
If you are considering using cannabis, or any products containing THC or CBD, you should be aware of the following:
- FDA strongly advises that during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, you avoid using CBD, THC, or marijuana in any form.
- Although many of these products are being sold, FDA has not approved these products, other than one prescription CBD drug product and two prescription drug products containing dronabinol, a synthetic version of THC (which are approved to treat certain side effects of HIV-AIDS or chemotherapy). All three of these prescription products have associated risks and side effects.
- Always talk with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist before taking any medicines, vitamins, or herbs while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Do not put yourself or your baby at risk by using cannabis products while pregnant or breastfeeding. Check out these links to learn more about cannabis, marijuana, CBD, and THC, and about taking medicines while you are pregnant.
CBD & Breastfeeding
When it comes to life for a new mom, there are a ton of questions both during pregnancy and after. How much does what you put in your body affect your baby? What’s considered safe? What isn’t? And are there natural alternatives that are better for you and your child than prescription medications that may have potentially dangerous side effects?
We get asked questions like these a lot, and one thing most new moms want to know is whether or not it’s safe to take CBD while breastfeeding. Like the answer to every question regarding CBD, the answer starts with understanding more about the human body and its endocannabinoid system.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid System (ES) plays a critical role in your body’s functioning and well-being. The Endocannabinoid System maintains a number of integral functions, including mental health and wellness, mood, appetite, nutrient transport, energy storage, immune function and the regulation of stress and pain perception.
When CBD enters the human body, it binds to CB receptors within the Endocannabinoid System. This can help to boost the endocannabinoids your body is already producing, and may help to improve the functions the ES is part of. You can learn more about the Endocannabinoid System here and see how CBD works in the body.
The Difference Between THC and CBD
By now, you probably know that THC and CBD are two of the most beneficial compounds found in hemp oil. CBD is a compound widely known for its beneficial properties that produces no psychoactive effects whatsoever. THC may also be useful in helping to treat various ailments, and it’s the compound responsible for creating the “high” associated with cannabis.
There’s been limited research done on the effects of CBD and THC on a developing fetus, but we discuss how to choose if taking CBD during pregnancy is right for you at length.
Taking CBD While Breastfeeding
When it comes to THC, research points to staying away from it while breastfeeding. However, there really hasn’t been enough research done to determine whether or not it’s safe to take CBD while breastfeeding. The truth is that many women who choose to take CBD during their time as a new mom have reported that they also enjoy powerful and natural relief from common postpartum symptoms.
Like any decision that involves your health or the health of your new baby, we strongly recommend talking with your doctor about whether CBD is the right option for you.
To learn more about the research out there and the arguments being made on taking CBD while breastfeeding, let’s dive into the ways CBD may be beneficial and the concerns about taking it.
A Natural Fighter of Anxiety and Depression
For the surprisingly high percentage of new moms struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, CBD may be especially helpful. Studies suggest between 11% to 15% of women struggle with these challenges, though the true number could be much higher.
Women with postpartum depression often find it more difficult to bond with their babies or provide them with adequate care, potentially impacting a child’s psychological development and leading to problems down the road. Often, when women bring these symptoms to a doctor’s attention, the prescribed “solution” is an antidepressant, like Lexapro or Zyban. Once these drugs finally take effect weeks after the first dose, they can come with a host of side effects like insomnia, weight gain and dizziness. While newer antidepressants have thankfully been formulated so they won’t interfere with breastfeeding, these drugs simply aren’t guaranteed to work. For new mothers without the financial means to obtain these antidepressants, PPD can feel like an impossible challenge.
The most controversial aspect of taking CBD while breastfeeding is simply the lack of research. Most of the studies done on cannabis involve a targeted look at THC. And while this research does point to negative effects of THC on developing fetuses and newborns (like low birth weight), what this indicates is that women shouldn’t smoke marijuana or take THC-rich products while pregnant or breastfeeding. It doesn’t indicate anything negative about CBD.
However, there is one thing we do know for sure – breast milk already naturally contains cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids in Breast Milk
Yep, that’s correct – breast milk is already chock-full of cannabinoids crucial for a baby’s development. This is one of the most important and significant findings surrounding CBD and cannabinoids at large.
Endocannabinoids are incredibly important because they play various vital roles in a baby’s development. They help stimulate the process of suckling and promote appetite, teaching newborns the vital process of eating and getting essential nutrients. It has been widely observed that babies who drink breast milk are more calm after feeding. While we do know that cannabinoids are present in breast milk, scientists aren’t yet sure which cannabinoids are present. One of the challenges in determining which cannabinoids are in breast milk is that CBD binds closely with fat, making it near impossible to measure its amount.
In the future, researchers believe they’ll be able to figure out which cannabinoids are in breast milk – and in what amounts – through a process called “saponification,” which separates those compounds from the milk. All of these advancements are important in determining how CBD might affect a newborn and making progress in the larger picture of CBD as a potentially awesome natural alternative to prescription medications.
Is Taking CBD Worth the Possible Risk?
That’s ultimately a choice between you and your doctor. There simply isn’t enough information currently about the ways CBD could impact your breast milk or your baby for us to definitively state that it’s a completely safe option.
However, after consulting with their doctors and analyzing the benefits of CBD over certain prescription medications, many mothers make the decision that CBD is right for them. And we do know that CBD is regularly prescribed for children struggling with seizures as a safe, non-intoxicating and natural solution.
If I Choose to Take CBD, How Much Should I Take?
As always, we recommend starting small and taking CBD at a consistent time of day. If you’re new to CBD, we recommend starting with 25-50 mg a day and increasing the amount as needed. To learn more, check out this complete guide of how much CBD you should take.