We spoke with experts to find out if CBD is safe while nursing.

By Tessa Petak
Jan 27, 2021 @ 12:42 pm
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Credit: Aleksandar Nakic/Getty Images

CBD has been a hot topic in wellness and medicine for the past couple of years. Some people swear by the derivative of hemp to relax, de-stress, and sleep better. So it makes perfect sense that new mothers, dealing with sleepless nights thanks to late-night feeding and early mornings, out-of-whack hormones, or even postpartum anxiety and depression in some cases, would be curious about the benefits.

"CBD and other cannabinoids have undergone intense scrutiny in the areas of managing anxiety and sleep, and can be beneficial for both immediate and long term stress and insomnia," Mary Clifton, M.D., an internal medicine doctor and leading cannabis and CBD expert, tells InStyle.

But what if you're a new mom and also nursing? Is taking CBD still a good idea? Here's what you need to know about CBD and breastfeeding.

The Science On CBD While Breastfeeding

The problem is, we know very little about the safety of taking CBD while breastfeeding because of the inability to test infants.

What we do know comes from studies about marijuana and breastfeeding. According to a study from UC San Diego, THC was measurable in most breast milk samples for up to six days after the substance was consumed or ingested by the mother.

That's why experts say it's best just to stay away from CBD altogether during both pregnancy and while breastfeeding until we know more. "Right now, we do not have any accurate studies showing how long CBD stays in your system," Nicole Williams, M.D., ob-gyn and founder of the Gynecology Institute of Chicago tells InStyle. "This could be as short as a few days or maybe even weeks!"

In other words, CBD can't just be treated like having a glass of wine if you're currently nursing. "The pump and dump method can't work because you have no idea if there is still CBD in your breastmilk," Dr. Williams adds. 

Bottom line: CBD is currently unregulated by the FDA, so there is very little known about the safety of taking it while breastfeeding.

"In cases like this, I often tell my patients, 'why take the risk?'" Dr. Williams says.

Are There Any Risks Associated?

Again, since experts can't study CBD in infants, "all we have is information from babies who were born addicted to substances in the cannabinoid family," Clifton says. And the list of potential risks is long. "Symptoms for cannabis exposure often include lethargy, somnolence, blood sugar abnormalities, or even coma."

Plus, according to the FDA, levels of THC in breastmilk can negatively affect a baby's brain development, which could result in poor cognitive function and other long-term conditions. "Higher concentrations of cannabinoids than those naturally present have not been studied in young people with developing brains, and there is concern that cannabinoids could damage developing neural tissues," Clifton explains.

Again, this is all based on THC, but "until further studies are completed, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should not use CBD or other cannabinoids," Clifton says.

Is Any Kind of CBD Safe to Take While Breastfeeding?

According to Dr. Williams, "when it comes to CBD, there is no 'safe' level for neither pregnancy nor breastfeeding."

However, topical CBD salves and balms (rather than ingestible forms) are most likely to be a bit safer, because they aren't directly entering your bloodstream. Some doulas say you should be okay to use a topical product for sore muscles or nipples, as long as you clean the area before your baby nurses — but be sure to talk to your doctor first.

What Are Some Alternatives to CBD for Depressed or Anxious New Moms?

If new motherhood is really taking a toll — mentally, physically, or both — there are some safe alternatives to taking CBD.

"What research is telling us is that postpartum depression can last many months after the baby has arrived, so don't think you have to be a supermom immediately," says Dr. Williams. She suggests traditional talk therapy for anxious new moms or, if prescribed, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) as safe and effective treatment options.

In addition to consulting your primary care physician, psychiatrist, or OB/GYN about treatment options that can safely help with postpartum anxiety and depression, Clifton also notes the importance of focusing on self-care and the little things you can do to take time for yourself.

"There's valuable support that can be achieved from standard psychotherapy, great diet, regular exercise, and paying particular attention to supportive relationships with close family and friends during this special but challenging time."