It's no secret that nursing mothers often feel like they're constantly being pulled in many different directions—caring for the new baby, recovering from childbirth, and maintaining their own well-being. It's no wonder that many nursing mothers are interested in CBD products to help manage stress and discomfort. But is A pediatrician trained in Western and Ayurvedic medicine along with a celebrity doula advise against use of CBD while breastfeeding. Learn why inside.
CBD And Breastfeeding: Is It Safe?
It’s no secret that nursing mothers often feel like they’re constantly being pulled in many different directions—caring for the new baby, recovering from childbirth, and maintaining their own well-being. It’s no wonder that many nursing mothers are interested in CBD products to help manage stress and discomfort. But is it safe for nursing mothers to use CBD products? There’s minimal research available on the outcomes of CBD on breastfed babies, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid using it while breastfeeding.
- CBD is one of many non-psychoactive compounds found in cannabis plants being researched for its long list of health benefits.
- CBD and other cannabinoids are fat-soluble, which means the body doesn’t eliminate them quickly, and they are stored in fat tissue.
- CBD has been detected in breastmilk 6 days after the last reported use, which can get passed on to infants.
- Some poorly-made CBD products may contain contaminants that can also pose a risk to the infant’s and mother’s health.
- Since there’s limited research on the safety of CBD and breastfeeding, it’s best to abstain from all cannabinoids.
What Is CBD?
CBD, cannabidiol, is one of over a hundred active compounds called cannabinoids derived from the cannabis plant. CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for maintaining balance for a wide range of functions, including sleep, energy, memory, inflammation support, and pain perception [1, 2].
Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive, which means it doesn’t cause changes in perception and feelings of euphoria. While some people smoke marijuana for pain and mental health, the intoxicating effects aren’t always welcome. CBD products have been gaining much attention lately for their potential health benefits without causing a high associated with marijuana use.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the effects and safety surrounding CBD because it’s long been associated with marijuana and THC, the main psychoactive component of the plant.
Legal CBD products are derived from hemp plants, which cannot contain more than 0.3% THC—which isn’t enough to elicit psychoactive effects.
You may be wondering what the difference between them is.
Is smoking cannabis just smoking cannabis?
Hemp and marijuana are from the same cannabis plant, but the difference is in the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and, therefore, its effects on the body.
Because CBD doesn’t cause the same changes in perception and euphoria, many people consider it a safer compound to take. Breastfeeding mothers may consider reaching for it to support relaxation, better sleep, and stress support. While CBD is deemed safe for most people, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly recommends against all cannabis product use, even CBD, for pregnant and breastfeeding parents.
Why Some Mothers Consider Using CBD While Breastfeeding
We know that bringing a new baby home is a massive transition for the family—while the postpartum period is a joyous time—it’s also undoubtedly challenging. And the nine months leading up to giving birth, women experience many changes to their bodies, resulting in pain, hormonal problems, stress and anxiety, and sometimes, postpartum depression.
Because there’s been so much attention on CBD’s potential to support stress, mood, sleep, and pain, many new mothers consider CBD products as a gentle and natural-derived compound for their wellness.
The critical question is whether or not taking CBD oil is safe for the breastfed baby.
Even with CBD use aside, breastfeeding benefits the mother and baby. Compared to not breastfeeding, nursing mothers have been found to have generally lower perceived stress levels, fewer depressive symptoms, and lose more weight [3, 4].
What The Science Says About CBD And Breastfeeding
It’s not advised to consume even small quantities of cannabis products while pregnant at the risk of the developing fetus.
Some research looking at the outcomes of marijuana use during pregnancy has found that newborns had a higher likelihood of low birth weight and impaired brain and nervous system development .
There’s limited research on the safety of consuming CBD products while breastfeeding and even less on human milk specifically. Most of the published research is focused on marijuana and THC.
Since THC and CBD are cannabinoids that bind to fat and are metabolized in much of the same way, there are certain assumptions we can make, but nothing concrete about their effects on infants exposed to the compounds.
A study conducted from 2014 to 2017 followed 50 breastfeeding women who reportedly used marijuana and provided samples of their breastmilk to the lab to detect cannabinoid concentrations.
THC was detectable in 63% of the samples up to six days after the reported use, and five samples contained measurable levels of CBD (8.56 ng/mL) .
This study shows us that it takes much longer to metabolize and eliminate cannabinoids in the body because cannabinoids are fat-soluble. It’s not as simple as pumping the breast milk and discarding it to eliminate the compounds from the woman’s body before feeding as many nursing mothers can do after drinking a glass of wine.
Because there’s not enough research on the outcomes of using CBD products while nursing, it’s best to stay on the safe side and avoid it altogether.
Risks Of Smoking CBD While Breastfeeding
Smoking cigarettes while pregnant is a huge no-no. Chemicals from tobacco smoke can pass into your breast milk, and research suggests that babies exposed to tobacco smoke through breast milk are more likely to suffer from respiratory problems, ear infections, and even Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) .
But what about smoking CBD while breastfeeding? Is safe?
The jury is still out on this one, but there are some risks to consider. For starters, CBD can pass into breast milk. Your baby could be exposed to the compound, and CBD is potentially unsafe for infants. Additionally, smoking anything while breastfeeding can be harmful to you and your baby.
Another factor to consider is the harmful chemicals potentially hidden in your CBD products.
The CBD industry is new and still poorly regulated. Unfortunately, too many brands don’t care about the care or quality of their products and will use shortcuts to yield higher profits at the cost of their customers.
The hemp plant is susceptible to its growing environment, and poorly grown hemp crops could have traces of pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants that can end up in your CBD products, which can then be passed through breast milk.
Risks Of Taking CBD Oil While Breastfeeding
While CBD oil is generally considered safe for most adults, there is limited research on its effects on breastfeeding mothers and their babies.
Some of the potential risks associated with taking CBD oil while breastfeeding include:
How Long Is CBD In Breast Milk?
Many factors affect how long cannabinoids can remain in your body, such as your metabolism, frequency of use, and dose.
Since cannabinoids bind to fats, CBD and other cannabinoids remain in the body for much longer than other compounds such as alcohol and nicotine. When it comes to drug testing, we know that THC can stay in your system and be detected in urine up to 30 days after the last reported use.
Some evidence shows that cannabinoids can be detected in trace amounts in breast milk even 6 days after the reported use. Of course, this number can vary from person to person.
Can Nursing Mothers Use Topical CBD Products?
In theory, it should be safe to use CBD products on the skin as it doesn’t enter the bloodstream.
Topical CBD interacts with endocannabinoid receptors in the skin tissue to exert its effects locally. However, since there’s so much we don’t know about human breast milk and CBD, it’s best to avoid anything that can potentially harm the baby.
The Takeaway: Is It Safe For Breastfeeding Mothers To Use CBD Products?
While CBD oil is generally considered safe for most adults, some controversy surrounds its use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. In some breastfeeding mothers’ milk samples with cannabis use, CBD was detected up to six days after its last reported use .
For many new mothers, the decision to use CBD is personal. But if you are on any prescription medications, you must speak with your doctor before taking CBD. Cannabinoids, like many prescribed medications, are processed by the liver, which can increase the risk of specific medication toxicity in the body, which can then get passed onto the infant.
Taking CBD While Breastfeeding Poses Risks—Here’s What You Need to Know
Jill is a Senior Commerce Editor for Byrdie. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Refinery 29, NYLON, Milk Media, VICE, Salon, Bustle, Modern Luxury, Autre, and Angeleno.
Dana Myers, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and life coach based in Philadelphia. She has a special interest in how race, sex, gender, ethnicity, social status and competencies impact those in marginalized communities and aims to help her clients find purpose and peace in life.
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