Taking CBD While Breastfeeding Poses Risks—Here’s What You Need to Know
Jill is a contributing writer for Byrdie where she covers fragrance and wellness. Her work has appeard 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
CBD & Breastfeeding
When it comes to life for a new mom, there are a ton of questions both during pregnancy and after. How much does what you put in your body affect your baby? What’s considered safe? What isn’t? And are there natural alternatives that are better for you and your child than prescription medications that may have potentially dangerous side effects?
We get asked questions like these a lot, and one thing most new moms want to know is whether or not it’s safe to take CBD while breastfeeding. Like the answer to every question regarding CBD, the answer starts with understanding more about the human body and its endocannabinoid system.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid System (ES) plays a critical role in your body’s functioning and well-being. The Endocannabinoid System maintains a number of integral functions, including mental health and wellness, mood, appetite, nutrient transport, energy storage, immune function and the regulation of stress and pain perception.
When CBD enters the human body, it binds to CB receptors within the Endocannabinoid System. This can help to boost the endocannabinoids your body is already producing, and may help to improve the functions the ES is part of. You can learn more about the Endocannabinoid System here and see how CBD works in the body.
The Difference Between THC and CBD
By now, you probably know that THC and CBD are two of the most beneficial compounds found in hemp oil. CBD is a compound widely known for its beneficial properties that produces no psychoactive effects whatsoever. THC may also be useful in helping to treat various ailments, and it’s the compound responsible for creating the “high” associated with cannabis.
There’s been limited research done on the effects of CBD and THC on a developing fetus, but we discuss how to choose if taking CBD during pregnancy is right for you at length.
Taking CBD While Breastfeeding
When it comes to THC, research points to staying away from it while breastfeeding. However, there really hasn’t been enough research done to determine whether or not it’s safe to take CBD while breastfeeding. The truth is that many women who choose to take CBD during their time as a new mom have reported that they also enjoy powerful and natural relief from common postpartum symptoms.
Like any decision that involves your health or the health of your new baby, we strongly recommend talking with your doctor about whether CBD is the right option for you.
To learn more about the research out there and the arguments being made on taking CBD while breastfeeding, let’s dive into the ways CBD may be beneficial and the concerns about taking it.
A Natural Fighter of Anxiety and Depression
For the surprisingly high percentage of new moms struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, CBD may be especially helpful. Studies suggest between 11% to 15% of women struggle with these challenges, though the true number could be much higher.
Women with postpartum depression often find it more difficult to bond with their babies or provide them with adequate care, potentially impacting a child’s psychological development and leading to problems down the road. Often, when women bring these symptoms to a doctor’s attention, the prescribed “solution” is an antidepressant, like Lexapro or Zyban. Once these drugs finally take effect weeks after the first dose, they can come with a host of side effects like insomnia, weight gain and dizziness. While newer antidepressants have thankfully been formulated so they won’t interfere with breastfeeding, these drugs simply aren’t guaranteed to work. For new mothers without the financial means to obtain these antidepressants, PPD can feel like an impossible challenge.
The most controversial aspect of taking CBD while breastfeeding is simply the lack of research. Most of the studies done on cannabis involve a targeted look at THC. And while this research does point to negative effects of THC on developing fetuses and newborns (like low birth weight), what this indicates is that women shouldn’t smoke marijuana or take THC-rich products while pregnant or breastfeeding. It doesn’t indicate anything negative about CBD.
However, there is one thing we do know for sure – breast milk already naturally contains cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids in Breast Milk
Yep, that’s correct – breast milk is already chock-full of cannabinoids crucial for a baby’s development. This is one of the most important and significant findings surrounding CBD and cannabinoids at large.
Endocannabinoids are incredibly important because they play various vital roles in a baby’s development. They help stimulate the process of suckling and promote appetite, teaching newborns the vital process of eating and getting essential nutrients. It has been widely observed that babies who drink breast milk are more calm after feeding. While we do know that cannabinoids are present in breast milk, scientists aren’t yet sure which cannabinoids are present. One of the challenges in determining which cannabinoids are in breast milk is that CBD binds closely with fat, making it near impossible to measure its amount.
In the future, researchers believe they’ll be able to figure out which cannabinoids are in breast milk – and in what amounts – through a process called “saponification,” which separates those compounds from the milk. All of these advancements are important in determining how CBD might affect a newborn and making progress in the larger picture of CBD as a potentially awesome natural alternative to prescription medications.
Is Taking CBD Worth the Possible Risk?
That’s ultimately a choice between you and your doctor. There simply isn’t enough information currently about the ways CBD could impact your breast milk or your baby for us to definitively state that it’s a completely safe option.
However, after consulting with their doctors and analyzing the benefits of CBD over certain prescription medications, many mothers make the decision that CBD is right for them. And we do know that CBD is regularly prescribed for children struggling with seizures as a safe, non-intoxicating and natural solution.
If I Choose to Take CBD, How Much Should I Take?
As always, we recommend starting small and taking CBD at a consistent time of day. If you’re new to CBD, we recommend starting with 25-50 mg a day and increasing the amount as needed. To learn more, check out this complete guide of how much CBD you should take.