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Navigating Our Health: Marijuana & Pregnancy

I recently attended a conference on the effects of marijuana use in pregnancy and breastfeeding. This has become a hot topic in the recent years since the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana in some states.

Currently in Delaware, recreational marijuana use is still illegal, but the legalization of medical marijuana passed in 2011. In 2015, the first dispensary opened in New Castle, known as First State Compassion Center, and a second location opened in Lewes in the spring of 2017.  Although medical marijuana is legal in our state, any marijuana use in pregnancy and breastfeeding in not recommended.

5 Things to Know about Marijuana Use in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  1. Marijuana use in pregnancy has been shown to cause health problems in newborns including low birth weight and developmental problems.  Prenatal marijuana exposure is associated with a decreased attention span and behavioral problems in children. Studies have shown children exposed to marijuana in utero had lower test scores on tests of visual problem solving, visual motor coordination and visual analysis compared to children who were not exposed.
  2. Many women think that because marijuana is a plant, it must be natural and safe for their baby.  This is absolutely FALSE!  Marijuana contains more than 100 chemicals, called cannabinoids along with over 500 other chemicals.  Marijuana bought on the street can be cut and laced with other street drugs.  Users may have no idea all of the ingredients in the marijuana they purchase.
  3. Marijuana is the most commonly used drug during pregnancy. A recent study cited by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) noted that 18.1% of pregnant women reported marijuana use in the past year.  2-5% of pregnant women continued to use marijuana on a regular basis during their pregnancy. Many women report marijuana use for treatment of their pregnancy induced nausea.  ACOG does not support this treatment and discourages the use of marijuana during pregnancy and lactation.
  4. The chemical THC, found in marijuana is passed through breast milk. Because this chemical is stored in the fat and breast milk contains a high fat concentration, the level of THC found in breast milk is estimated to be at an 8.11 milk/plasma ratio.  Therefore, if a mom smokes a joint and then breastfeeds her infant, the infant’s exposure to THC would be similar to the adult’s exposure after smoking one joint.
  5. THC can be detected in a baby’s urine for 2-5 weeks after exposure. Because THC stays in the body for a long time after exposure, a mom who is in drug treatment for chronic marijuana use is recommended to “pump and dump” breast milk for at least 60 days before recommended to feed the milk to her baby.

Although society has become more accepting of marijuana use and it may be medically prescribed for certain conditions, it is not recommended in pregnancy and lactation.  If you or someone you know is pregnant or planning to become pregnant, please avoid marijuana use and/or seek treatment for help with addiction. This is a great place to start:

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Carrie Snyder

Carrie Snyder, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, is the Women's Health Nurse Navigator. Carrie serves as a liaison between Beebe and the community to help community members navigate Beebe’s services.