New research contradicts hospital policies on breastfeeding when marijuana is present

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — There’s new research weighing the benefits of breastfeeding to the risk of a mother’s marijuana use. The study contradicts some of what mothers have been told about how the drug affects breast milk. 

In 2017, the Indiana State Health Commissioner Kristina Box said more than 20 percent of babies umbilical cords tested for drugs came back positive for marijuana exposure in utero. It’s possible some of those mothers may continue using pot while breastfeeding. 

At IU Health, doctors do not recommend breastfeeding for moms who use marijuana as long as the baby is born full-term. 

However, if the baby is premature, Riley Hospitalist Dr. Emily Scott said the risk of not breastfeeding the baby is higher than the potential harm from THC being present in the breast milk. 
Policies at hospitals in Indiana and across the country regarding marijuana and breastfeeding vary. Some are strict and will not provide breastfeeding information or supplies if a mother or baby tests positive for marijuana. Also, some require physicians to order formula instead of breastfeeding in that situation. 

Still, new research out of Colorado that included eight mothers, a relatively small pool, showed THC in breast milk peaks about one hour after marijuana use and then drops to “virtually nothing” after about three or four hours. That is similar to how alcohol affects breast milk. 

The mothers involved in the study were given controlled doses of marijuana that was regulated by the state, since it is legal in Colorado. 
Dr. Scott said while the research is interesting, she cautions that it isn’t a real life situation especially for Hoosier moms. 

“Our moms who are using marijuana here in Indiana are getting it off the street or from a dealer and we don’t know how much is in there and they often are using it just a time and then following it,” Dr. Scott said. 

Dr. Scott also points out other studies have shown there could be risks to how the baby’s brain grows and develops.  

“And so what I always tell parents as pediatricians and parents, we all want your babies to be as smart and as well-behaved as possible and the research shows that I can’t confidently say that if you’re going to be breastfeeding your baby while using marijuana,” Dr. Scott said. 

Contradicting studies can make it difficult to make choices while pregnant or breast-feeding. Doctors recommend turning to the American Academy of Pediatrics or the American College of OB-GYN’s for the best answers.