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Is CBD Safe for Breastfeeding Moms? What You Need to Know

You may have heard that CBD is chock-full of calming, pain-relieving benefits—but is it okay to use while breastfeeding? Here, experts weigh in.
ByAshley Zielger
Published
July 22, 2021
Mom soothing newborn baby with her breastfeeding pump nearby.
Image: Getty Images

Cannabidiol, or CBD, has become more and more popular over the last few years for its ability to alleviate symptoms associated with a number of conditions, both physical and mental. Nowadays, you can find CBD in gummies, essential oils and even infused into lotions and shampoos. This natural solution to managing pain and anxiety may sound appealing, but is CBD safe if you’re breastfeeding? What do the experts say about it—and are there some alternatives you should try instead? Read on to get the full lowdown on CBD and breastfeeding.

What Is CBD?

CBD is one of the two most prevalent components in cannabis plants, such as marijuana, according to the Food and Drug Administration; the other is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). When separated, CBD offers the same calming effects of marijuana without the psychedelic “high” that’s caused by the THC. CBD can also be derived from a different type of cannabis plant, the hemp plant, which the FDA says contains very little THC.

Many people are interested in using CBD oil as a number of potential health benefits have emerged. According to the Harvard School of Medicine, CBD has already been proven to help treat specific seizures in children, but it may also alleviate symptoms of other common conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia and chronic pain.

Given these benefits, it’s no wonder that new moms might be interested in using CBD. Postpartum recovery is physically painful and mentally exhausting. Postpartum anxiety, sleep deprivation, neck and back pain and the general discomfort that accompanies healing from childbirth can make CBD sound like an intriguing alternative to over-the-counter and prescription medications.

Is CBD Breastfeeding-Safe?

Unfortunately, while CBD use may seem appealing to new moms, at this time, there isn’t much research on how it affects breast milk—and what little research has been done has led experts to advise against its use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. “In studies, CBD has been found in [the] breast milk of parents who use cannabis products,” says Amanda DeWeese, MPH, a certified lactation consultant. In fact, there hasn’t been much definitive research on CBD at all, and DeWeese points out that the FDA has only approved its use for one medication, “which is used to treat rare, severe forms of seizures in children.”

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Samuel T. Bauer, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Duke Health, further explains, “While there is minimal data regarding marijuana and breastfeeding, there is even less with CBD in pregnancy.” There are known risks to marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but most of them are related to THC. Still, research has shown that traces of CBD can be found in breast milk and, in addition to all of the unknown risks associated with it, there is also “potential for CBD products to be contaminated with things like pesticides, heavy metals, bacteria, fungus, etc.,” notes DeWeese.

Because of this contamination risk and a general lack of data, experts—including the FDA, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—advise against using CBD and other cannabis products containing CBD (including, of course, marijuana) while breastfeeding.

Alternatives to CBD Oil While Breastfeeding

Since the perceived benefits of CBD oil are so well aligned with the postpartum period, it’s understandably disappointing that it’s not considered safe for use while breastfeeding. However, there are other options you can try that may have a similar effect, including some medications and a few natural alternatives.

Breastfeeding consultant Natalie Ward, IBCLC, recommends trying holistic alternatives such as epsom salt baths, acupuncture, essential oils for diffusing, massage, yoga and talk therapy. It’s also always helpful to get some regular movement, stay hydrated and eat a balanced diet, says DeWeese. Physical therapy and meditation are two additional ways to address physical and mental symptoms, advises Bauer. It’s important to remember that CBD is not a cure-all—so even if you could take it, you’d want to try it in tandem with other healthy lifestyle choices.

Of course, there are also safe medication options you can try for various symptoms. Bauer recommends Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain, which he says is safe “during the postpartum period and during lactation.” If you’re struggling with your mental health, DeWeese says that some doctors may recommend certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) considered safe for breastfeeding parents; these are often prescribed for depression and anxiety. There are also supplements that can help, such as Morninga, which can reduce inflammation and can also help with milk supply, according to Ward. Talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement, medication or routine. You want to get the green light and make sure there are no other physical or mental issues at play.

Unfortunately, CBD might not be the answer to your postpartum woes right now. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll want to steer clear of this option—at least until after baby is fully weaned. In the meantime, take care of your body and mind in other ways. The postpartum period can be challenging, so don’t hesitate to seek professional help in your physical and mental recovery.

About the experts:

Samuel T. Bauer, MD, FACOG, is a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Duke Health, where he sees patients in Durham, Cary, and Raleigh, North Carolina. He earned his medical degree from the University of Kansas in 2003.

Amanda DeWeese, MPH, CPH, IBCLC, LLL Leader, is a lactation consultant in Tampa Bay, Florida, and online for Lactation Link. She earned her Master’s degree in public health from the University of South Florida.

Natalie Ward, IBCLC, BS, is a lactation consultant and the founder of The Milky Mermaid in Wilmington, North Carolina. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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