A pediatrician trained in Western and Ayurvedic medicine along with a celebrity doula advise against use of CBD while breastfeeding. Learn why inside. 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.
Taking CBD While Breastfeeding Poses Risks—Here’s What You Need to Know
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In This Article
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is everywhere, from topical salves to tinctures. The so-called organic Xanax is being touted by wellness enthusiasts as a panacea to pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Nature’s supposed cure-all might seem like a miracle treatment to sleep-deprived, delirious new mothers, especially those who are breastfeeding and feeling energetically depleted. But despite the widespread availability of CBD, as of 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved one CBD drug, leaving many questions around its safety for breastfeeding mothers unanswered. What may seem like natural stress relief to help navigate the many mental and physical challenges of motherhood, especially in trying times, might end up exposing your child to risks that research has yet to uncover.
Nursing offers an unparalleled host of benefits to both mother and child. According to a comprehensive 2013 review, the nutritional, immunological, and anti-inflammatory properties of breastmilk provide health advantages to a nursing baby, including reduced risks of asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, ear and respiratory infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Nursing mothers experience a lowered risk of disease, including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and ovarian and breast cancer, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But that’s not all. Breastfeeding is credited with positive psychosocial outcomes, most noticeably through the bond that develops between mother and child. As such, leading organizations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorse breastfeeding for at least 12 months of a child’s life. Such consensus around the benefits of breastfeeding have resulted in an uptick in mothers who nurse, with the CDC reporting 58.3% of infants breastfeeding at 6 months in 2017.
Increased duration of breastfeeding does, however, extend the postpartum period, which, as you probably know, may result in fatigue, interrupted sleep, and the emotional pressure that can accompany feeding a little one 24/7. As wonderful as breastfeeding may be, it can also be overwhelming, leaving nursing mothers exhausted and in need of relief; after all, being a source of unconditional comfort is draining. Widely available CBD might seem like a godsend, offering an instant feeling of calm without a hangover or any of the psychoactive effects of marijuana. But here’s the rub: Even though CBD is natural, we don’t yet know how CBD affects a developing baby and child, and what the longterm effects might be to a baby who has been exposed to CBD through breastmilk.
Ahead, our experts help us sift through what we do know about using CBD when breastfeeding, so nursing mothers can make informed choices.
Meet the Expert
- Natalie Geary, MD, is a pediatric and family doctor based in Miami and New York and the founder and Medical Director of vedaHEALTH and vedaPURE. A Harvard trained physician, Geary integrates Ayurvedic and allopathic medicine in her practice.
- A celebrity wellness maven and birth doula, Latham Thomas is the founder of Mama Glow, a global maternal health and doula education company, instructing doula-trainees from around the world. Thomas is a graduate of Columbia University and Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and author of two best-selling books, Own Your Glow: A Soulful Guide to Luminous Living and Crowning The Queen Within and Mama Glow: A Hip Guide to Your Fabulous Abundant Pregnancy.
What the Data Says About CBD and Breastfeeding
There is a lack of published research on the safety of using CBD while breastfeeding. Most of the data surrounds maternal use of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), derived from marijuana. However, CBD and THC are both classified as cannabinoids, which the data suggests enters breastmilk after maternal consumption:
A 2018 study surrounding THC and breastfeeding, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, indicates that THC is measurable in breastmilk for up to six days after maternal marijuana use. Cannabinoids love to adhere to fat, and breastmilk is viscous as it contains long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.
This means you can’t pump and feel confident the CBD is out of your system, like you might after say, drinking a glass of wine. “CBD takes longer to metabolize and process through the body than alcohol,” says Thomas. “We know that cannabinoids stick to the fatty parts of breast milk and hang out longer.“
Geary adds, “Every mother’s metabolism is different; the absorption into the blood stream is different, and the actual dosage of the CBD listed is not considered accurate or reliable.” She also brings up a point about the lack of regulation surrounding CBD products. In March of 2020, the FDA issued a statement promising to advance regulatory practices of CBD, admitting wide gaps in data and a lack of market transparency. The same report notes, “we are also not at a point where we can conclude that unapproved CBD products are safe for use.” Thomas adds that for reliable data, we’ll need to evaluate a couple thousand people over at least 15 years. Current data doesn’t meet either of those criteria.
Topical vs. Ingestible Use of CBD When Breastfeeding
When it comes to topical versus ingestible use of CBD, again, there’s a dearth of data on the longterm effects. However, Thomas says that topical CBD products are a bit safer because CBD isn’t entering your bloodstream in the same way. “Postpartum women might apply a CBD salve to a scar, achy muscles, or to ease sore nipples,” explains Thomas, adding that you should make sure to clean nipples before your baby latches.
Thomas warns to be skeptical of CBD products that are inexpensive. Seek out reputable brands that use conscious farming practices. “None of this stuff is cheap,” she says. “This is an expensive process.”
She says it’s crucial, however, that you bring the product you intend on using to your health care provider and discuss its use before trying it out. She also says it’s important to realize if you choose to use CBD topically when breastfeeding, it’s still considered experimental. “Never feel forced to use something just because you bought it,” she adds.
Risks of Using CBD When Breastfeeding
One reason you might think CBD is safe for nursing mothers is the fact that mother’s milk naturally contains cannabinoids, similar to CBD. These cannabinoids may help stimulate a newborn’s appetite. In fact, they work on the same receptors that are activated when people get the munchies from consuming THC. However, don’t assume a case of “the more the merrier,” says Thomas. Geary, too, warns there’s a big difference between what the body produces naturally and the “artificially imported chemicals” in commercial CBD. She adds, “Women have been breastfeeding forever. Mother’s milk contains no impurities, no chemicals or pesticides, and no chance of an overdose.”
CBD remains out of the purview of the FDA, leaving each company or brand in control of monitoring the product’s safety. “Some companies are able to afford testing and studies,” says Thomas. “Others aren’t.”
Geary adds, “A very real problem is that the products are unregulated and may be contaminated with harmful chemicals—such as pesticides, bacteria, fungus, and heavy metals—which can harm the fetus or baby.”
Geary (who notes that as a pediatrician with a license to provide medical marijuana —CBD and THC products—she’s not an anti-marijuana doctor), says using CBD when breastfeeding just isn’t a safe gamble. “During the time of the developing fetus, through until age three years of life, the infant’s brain reaches 80% of its full adult volume. Any unnecessary exposure, especially in those vulnerable first three years, is worth considering very seriously.”
Until we have more evidence, Geary says women who are expecting or breastfeeding should definitely err on the side of caution and avoid cannabis in all forms.
Try to use nursing sessions as a time to pause and reset, letting the oxytocin that’s released during breastfeeding help you enter a state of calm. Play soothing music or a guided meditation, practice deep breathing, and remember that this stage of life is temporary.
Thomas adds that although CBD can seem like a “pathway to self-care,” it’s only one of many wellness tools. She urges women to get to the “root of the stress or anxiety on the road to recovery.” Asking for help is critical. “When we think of stress and how to mitigate it because life is too much, that becomes a pathway for pain and trauma to embed,” she says. But it’s also an opportunity to do the work necessary to heal. “Reaching for a cure-all,” she says, “helps us turn away from a life we’ve created when we need to be so committed to it right now.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression, please see a physician or contact Postpartum Support International, a free helpline.
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
Dieterich CM, Felice JP, O’Sullivan E, Rasmussen KM. Breastfeeding and Health Outcomes for the Mother-infant Dyad. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2013;60(1):31-48. doi:10.1016/j.pcl.2012.09.010
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding Benefits Both Baby and Mom. Updated July 27, 2021.
Bertrand KA, Hanan NJ, Honerkamp-Smith G, Best BM, Chambers CD. Marijuana Use by Breastfeeding Mothers and Cannabinoid Concentrations in Breast Milk. Pediatrics. 2018;142(3):e20181076. doi:10.1542/peds.2018-1076
Uvnäs Moberg K, Ekström-Bergström A, Buckley S, et al. Maternal Plasma Levels of Oxytocin During Breastfeeding – A Systematic Review. PLoS One. 2020;15(8):e0235806. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0235806
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.