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Mother Knows Best: Should I Rip a Bong While Breastfeeding My Kid?

The fact remains that we don't have any good data on the effects of breastfeeding while using cannabis.

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Dear Mother,

I was on Facebook recently and saw saw a big blow-up in the cannabis community on when it comes to moms smoking while breastfeeding. Where do you stand? Is it cool for moms to take bong hits while breastfeeding or do you think that's wrong? How can we break down the stigma when folks in our own community can't agree?

— Wondering

Dear Wondering,

You're right that this is a hot topic. A few weeks ago, a Portland mother posted an image of herself breastfeeding her child while taking a bong hit, which, if you know anything about the internet, is a recipe for online intrigue. One news piece led to another post, and then another, then a few more, and now I'm writing about it. Everyone who cares about cannabis and/or brestfeeding and/or moms seems to have an opinion on the subject, and since this is an area where true expertise is hazy at best, arguments and passion are flying from all angles.

One of the frustrating aspects surrounding cannabis—particularly now that it's gaining legal traction—is all the years we wasted not being able to better scientifically study it. The fact remains that we don't have any good data telling us exactly what the impact is when it comes to breastfeeding while using cannabis. With many women using cannabis during pregnancy and postpartum, it would be helpful for so many if we had better evidence-based information on this, but unfortunately, we're just not there… yet. For now, however, we do have a lot of anecdata—i.e., self-reported studies or stories that pregnant women or mothers have shared about their individual experiences with cannabis and motherhood––the majority of which I've found to be positive.

Here's what we do know: THC does make its way into breast milk, but the effect of that is up in the air. Some scientists and doctors believe that breastfeeding while consuming cannabis can cause a baby to be lethargic and have delayed brain and motor skills development, but again, there have been no studies conducted to test that. It also may impact the production of breast milk. Some mothers have reported a decrease in quantity/quality of milk while others have noted an increase in production.

It's important to know that most medical organizations discourage consuming cannabis while pregnant and/or breastfeeding. In addition, depending on where you are located, state law may have something to say about it as well. You may want to check to see if you are in danger of receiving a visit from child and family services or even losing custody of your children if it is found that you are consuming cannabis and are pregnant or breastfeeding.

All of that said, like all things related to parenting, you—as the individual—need to make an educated, informed decision as to what works best for you and your family. In my case, despite the fact that I am an avid cannabis user and have been for more than half my life, I took a break from smoking while pregnant and for the first couple years while I breastfed. If I'd been using cannabis medically at the time, then I would have to make a decision based on all the information I could find. Folks have to do this all the time when it comes to other medications and breastfeeding (and trust me, there is a lot of misinformation out there on that topic in general), and I feel cannabis fits under that umbrella.

Now, do I think it's a great look for anyone to snap and publicly post a picture of them ripping a bong hit while breastfeeding? No, I don't. We may not have scientific info about cannabis in breast milk, but I'd like to think we understand the potential harmful effects of secondhand smoke. I understand that a small minority of mothers cannot simply medicate before breastfeeding and may need to use cannabis while nursing, but perhaps that's where a vaporizer or edibles can come into play? Also, you mention wanting to break down the stigma and frankly, I don't think a picture like that serves any purpose when it comes to doing so.

Bottom line: Be mindful, do as much research as you can with what little is out there, weigh the risks/benefits, and make the most informed decision that best impacts you and your family.

— Mother