It is difficult to know precisely how many compounds exist in the marijuana plant. Research suggests there are at least 480, anywhere between 66 and 100 of which are classified as ‘cannabinoids.’ These special compounds interact with certain receptors in the central nervous system. CB1 and CB2 are the two cannabinoid receptors that have been identified to date.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the most famous marijuana compounds. It is known for being non-intoxicating, a stark contrast to the effects of THC which ensure users enjoy a ‘high.’ The trouble with THC is its legal status. Also, while it offers a number of medicinal benefits, it is not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
CBD, on the other hand, also provides an array of medical benefits and it is widely used by breastfeeding women. However, while it doesn’t provide a ‘high,’ there are some concerns over its suitability for women who are breastfeeding. In this guide, we look at the available scientific evidence to see if CBD will harm or help your new baby.
Why Would New Mums Need CBD Oil in the First Place?
Among the many conditions that CBD is used for, anxiety and depression are among the most common. In new mothers, CBD oil is especially useful in the fight against postpartum depression (PPD). Data regarding the number of women that suffer from PPD is sketchy. A 2004/2005 self-reporting study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), showed that between 11.7% and 15% of new mums experienced PPD. It was a large-scale study and covered mothers in 17 states.
If you use the 15% figure, this equates to approximately 900,000 women with PPD each year. Of course, the CDC data focuses on live births, but women who suffer a miscarriage or have a stillborn child are also susceptible to PPD. One would imagine they would have an even higher instance of PPD.
It is also important to note that the CDC study involved self-reporting. Sadly, there is still a stigma attached to anxiety disorders such as PPD, so it is likely that a large percentage of women don’t even report it. As a consequence, the percentage of new women with PPD is probably higher than 15%. It is also a fact that PPD in low-income areas can reach as high as 25%.
If all of the above isn’t concerning enough, only 15% of women receive treatment for their PPD. Physicians such as pediatricians and obstetricians don’t screen for the condition. As a result, women with PPD find it more difficult to bond with their babies or care for them adequately. Furthermore, PPD can even impact the child’s psychological development, and lead to a higher risk of psychiatric illness in later life.
The Trouble with Drugs & Breastfeeding
With so much at stake, it is little wonder that women with PPD are seeking an all-natural solution to their condition. The most common treatment, aside from counseling, is an anti-depressant. Popular drugs include Sertraline, Zyban, and Lexapro. As well as taking several weeks to have an effect, these drugs result in side effects such as insomnia, dizziness, weight gain, and diarrhea.
Although newer anti-depressants are designed not to interfere with breastfeeding, there are no guarantees that they will work. It is also a fact that breastfeeding moms have limited choice when it comes to prescription drugs. And, if you have an adverse reaction to one drug, there may not be another option for you on the market.
The Trouble with CBD & Breastfeeding
By far the biggest issue surrounding the use of CBD while breastfeeding is the lack of scientific research conducted on nursing mothers. There have been studies relating to THC however, and the outcome is not positive. A 2014 study by Gunn et al. discovered that exposure to cannabis in utero has a negative impact on birth weight and increases the risk of a newborn baby ending up in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). As upsetting as this news is, it only outlines the fact that women shouldn’t smoke marijuana while pregnant.
Did You Know That Breast Milk Naturally Contains Cannabinoids?
Given the lack of relevant research, one of the most significant findings of the last decade in this sphere is the fact that cannabinoids are found naturally in human breast milk. Several studies have confirmed that breast milk contains the same cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant and they are crucial for correct human development.
Endocannabinoids help teach a newborn baby how to eat by stimulating the process of suckling. If these endocannabinoids didn’t exist, babies wouldn’t know how to eat nor would they have the desire. The result would be malnourishment and possibly death.
Dr. Melanie Dreher conducted a study on women who used cannabis during their pregnancy and studied the children one year after they were born. Dreher discovered that the babies from women who smoked cannabis were more sociable, engaged quicker and made contact more quickly. It is noticeable that babies are calmer and more relaxed after feeding on the breast. This is one of the many reasons why breast milk is vastly superior to formula.
Although this is exciting news, it is important to note the term ‘cannabinoids’ in these studies. Remember, there are dozens of them and there is no evidence that human breast milk specifically contains CBD or THC for that matter.
Cannabinoids in Utero
Since the biggest concern about CBD and breastfeeding is its impact on the milk, and therefore the baby, it is worth looking into research regarding cannabinoids and pregnancy. A 2006 report from Vanderbilt University’s Pediatrics Department found that endocannabinoids were an “emerging concept in female reproduction.”
Endocannabinoids are crucial in conception. The newly fertilized embryo has to attach itself to the uterus’ lining after intercourse, and it requires a certain amount of anandamide, an endocannabinoid. It uses the CB1 receptors on the fertilized egg which are the same receptor types used by THC.
Why Is It So Difficult to Determine the Impact of CBD on Breast Milk?
Given the number of women using CBD to treat PPD and anxiety after giving birth, one would have thought there would be multiple studies relating to the compound’s effects on breastfeeding mothers. Alas, even measuring the amount of CBD that ends up in breast milk is tough.
Research by the American Chemical Society showed that CBD binds so closely with fat, that it has been impossible to measure the amounts in breast milk. All cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, like to stick to fat and of course, there is a lot of fat in breast milk. Although there are analytical methods capable of detecting THC at levels of 1.5 nanograms per ml or higher, no methods exist to detect CBD levels. (At least as far as we know)
Researchers at the CDC believe they have the answer in the form of a process called ‘saponification’ which will separate cannabinoids from milk. They believe it will be possible to detect tiny amounts of CBD in breast milk in a test set to be 100 times better at detecting cannabinoids than previous tests. Eventually, this technique should help in future studies that look at how CBD impacts breast milk.
Is CBD Worth the Risk for Breastfeeding Mothers?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, women with PPD often have problems breastfeeding. If your condition becomes so severe that it could result in harm to you and your baby, you have to weigh the risk versus reward ratio. CBD will help you through PPD, but there isn’t enough information available to determine how it will impact your breast milk and your baby.
What we do know is that CBD is a far better choice than THC when battling anxiety and depression. While THC blocks a neurotransmitter called GABA which helps calm the body, CBD acts oppositely as it helps the brain create even more GABA. CBD is known to work on serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with depressed moods. It is also worth noting that CBD is regularly prescribed for children with seizures. It offers a non-intoxicating method of combating the problem with no side effects.
In contrast, many of the pharmaceutical drugs prescribed for breastfeeding moms are known to have a variety of side effects. For example, Tramadol is often prescribed even though it is an opioid that is highly addictive given its morphine-like effects. It also slows your breathing and can even lead to seizures.
How Much CBD Should I Take When Breastfeeding?
This is yet another great unknown, even amongst people who use CBD to combat depression. A 2011 study focused on ten people with social anxiety who never previously had treatment for their condition. They received 400mg or a placebo. Those who consumed the CBD reported a noticeable improvement in their symptoms compared to those who took the placebo.
Does this mean you need 400mg of CBD a day? Of course not, especially since that would be considered a large dose. A typical ‘starting’ dose is 5-10mg. Note how it impacts your mood and decide whether you need to increase the dosage. You can try edibles or balm, but most people opt for CBD oil. While you can vape it, most breastfeeding mothers should place a few drops under their tongue.
While it is true that the impact of CBD on breastfeeding women is unknown due to a lack of research, it is important to remember that it comes from naturally growing hemp or cannabis. It is a far cry from the lab-created opioids often prescribed that usually do more harm than good.