As several states have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, it’s become more widely available across the country, including to moms and women planning to become moms. While research about safety of marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding is still ongoing, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued new guidelines on using marijuana while pregnant.

Marijuana use has been steadily rising among pregnant moms, going up from 2.4 percent in 2002 to nearly 4 percent in 2014, according to the AAP. While still a relatively small population, the near-doubling of this segment of moms has prompted  the AAP to issue 10 new guidelines about the many ramifications of using marijuana while pregnant. The biggest takeaway for new moms and moms-to-be is this: “Marijuana should not be used during pregnancy.”

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A recent study determined that some women may use marijuana during pregnancy to ease symptoms of morning sickness, but with very little research on the long-term effects of marijuana use to the baby during pregnancy, safety remains a big question.

The new recommendations issued by the AAP are based on limited studies that show that THC (full name tetrahydrocannabinol, a.k.a., the chemical that gives users that “high” feeling) can cross the placenta and accumulate in the brain of a growing fetus. Marijuana use during pregnancy was also associated with lower birth weight, pre-term births and time spent in the NICU. Limited long-term studies show that marijuana may also have an impact on executive functioning in kids later in life, such as impulse control and problem-solving.

“As health professionals, we need to educate women that there are a lot of concerns both for the fetus and for later development,” said Kelly Young-Wolff, a research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, told Kaiser Health News. (Young-Wolff was not involved in the new Pediatrics report.)

The new guidelines also cover moms using marijuana while breastfeeding. Another recent study found that traces of THC could be detected in breast milk up to six days after use, however, there is no research yet on what impact that level of THC might have on an infant.

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“If you’re breastfeeding, we would encourage you to cut back or quit,” said Dr. Seth Ammerman, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford who worked on the report. However, he clarifies that even if a mom is unwilling to quit marijuana she should still continue to breastfeed, noting that “the benefits of breastfeeding would outweigh the potential exposure to the infant.”

While the research is still very limited in this area, what research does exist is enough for the AAP to weigh in about the use of marijuana during pregnancy. Ultimately, the AAP would have moms-to-be err on the side of caution. Marijuana may be legal in some states, but the organization contends that doesn’t mean that in all circumstances it is safe.

As with any medical decision, moms-to-be should discuss their options and concerns with their health care providers.

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—Shahrzad Warkentin

 

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