Breast milk that contains THC, a compound in cannabis, does not negatively affect infants’ short-term health, according to a small study presented today at the American Academy of Pediatrics national conference.
Researchers at the University of Maryland studied 763 preterm babies (59% Black, 31% white) and their mothers from the neonatal intensive care unit at University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.
Urine testing showed 130, or 17%, of the mothers had THC in their system.
Next, the researchers ran tests on the babies at 36 weeks to determine any breathing, feeding, and lung development problems, which are all considered short-term health issues.
They found that babies who drank breast milk from THC-positive moms had similar health compared to babies who drank milk from THC-negative moms.
Dr. Natalie Davis, author and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said she wanted to study cannabis and breast milk after hearing about a THC-positive mother who didn’t get support from hospital staff when she wanted to breastfeed. The woman was at a hospital not affiliated with UMD.
“They wouldn’t help order her a breast pump, provide any lactation consultation help, or assist in her feeding her baby breast milk because of her THC status. She was really devastated, and her family wanted to know more about the health risks this situation would pose to babies,” Davis, who is also a neonatologist at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, told Insider.
Ultimately, Davis and her team suggested pregnant women abstain from cannabis use during pregnancy until more conclusive research is done.
There were limitations to the study, like figuring out which health issues were due to THC exposure and which were due to other factors, like delayed prenatal care, according to Davis. She also said they could only follow the infants while they were in the hospital, and therefore couldn’t collect long-term health data.
Doctors warn against consuming cannabis during pregnancy
Some women are choosing to self-medicate with cannabis during and after pregnancy to cope with symptoms like nausea, pain, and postpartumsans prescription, Insider previously reported.
According to a January 2019 letter in JAMA Pediatrics that’s based on a 2018 national drug survey, marijuana use during pregnancy in the U.S. has increased over the past 14 years, from 2.9% in 2002 to 5% in 2016.
In 2019, the FDA issued a statement about the dangers of using CBD and THC, two of the main compounds found in cannabis, while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Some research suggests cannabis use during pregnancy can affect a child’s brain development. These studies found children of people who used cannabis during pregnancy had lower IQs, attention problems, and more impulsiveness compared to children whose mothers didn’t use cannabis while pregnant.
Still, “what we know today is pretty sparse,” Kjersti Aagard, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and professor at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, previously told Insider. “We don’t have the long-term studies to really examine that carefully from a public health perspective.”