Most moms of newborn babies have two things in common: trouble sleeping and many reasons to feel anxious. Both of these are especially true when breastfeeding, which has led many to search for safe, effective solutions — and lately, cannabidiol (CBD) has emerged as an intriguing option.
When it comes to safety, CBD’s reputation is generally positive. It doesn’t cause the intoxicating effects often associated with cannabis, and a 2019 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that it has “no potential for abuse and no potential to produce dependence,” nor is it likely to cause significant side effects, though a recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing on CBD raised concerns about how long-term use at high dosages could affect liver enzymes.
Still, neither the WHO, the FDA, nor any other major agency has made a conclusive statement about CBD’s safety for breastfeeding mothers and their infants. As a result, women who are interested in the oil’s potential to reduce their anxiety or help them sleep better are left with two options. They can avoid it entirely for the time being, or do their own research into its possible benefits and risks.
There are currently no scientific studies published that indicate potential side effects for breastfeeding infants when their mother is taking CBD. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe. In fact, the main problem with using CBD while breastfeeding is that so few scientific studies have been published at all — even in recent years, as restrictions on cannabis-related research have loosened, it’s impossible to find a single study that specifically examines the safety of using CBD while breastfeeding.
The research that does exist at this point addresses the use of marijuana during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. One notable example is a 2018 Pediatrics study that looked specifically at the transmission of marijuana into donated breast milk. Using self-reported information about alcohol and drug use, researchers examined 54 samples obtained from mothers who had recently used marijuana. Testing the milk, researchers found that THC was present in 63 percent of the samples even up to six days after the last reported use. However, only 9 percent showed any trace of CBD, and according to the study’s authors, “The sample with the highest concentration of cannabidiol … did not have measurable [THC].”
While THC is widely regarded as something breastfeeding mothers should avoid — a 2012 study in Clinical Lactation linked it with “ feeding difficulty, lethargy, and delayed cognitive and motor development” and stated that “[mothers] considered heavy or chronic users of marijuana are advised to not breastfeed infants” — THC affects different neuroreceptors than CBD, which means their effects are significantly different.
Most experts take a cautious approach on the use of CBD while breastfeeding. Dr. Felice Gersh, OB-GYN,, told Parents magazine she recommended her patients avoid using CBD oil due to the lack of research and “the fact that production is poorly regulated in most states,” though she didn’t cite any specific concerns with the extract’s safety profile.
The online parenting resource What to Expect, which provides advice to pregnant and breastfeeding moms, also advises against the practice, citing the recommendation of organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) that cannabis use should be avoided while breastfeeding (though again, there was no specific reference to CBD).
Some moms, despite their interest in CBD, have decided to postpone their exploration of the cannabinoid until after they’re no longer nursing. In an essay for Shondaland, writer Sara Gaynes Levy explained her decision to continue using prescription pharmaceuticals instead of CBD to manage her symptoms of anxiety and insomnia, writing, “If I took CBD oil, I’d have no way of knowing how much was getting into my daughter’s system. With Xanax, we know this down to the microgram.”
Ultimately, this is a difficult decision that every breastfeeding mother must make for herself. Women who are having a hard time managing postpartum symptoms should speak honestly with their healthcare provider about their interest in CBD. A doctor who is knowledgeable about cannabis can help mothers make an informed decision. This may mean offering alternative treatment options if the mother chooses not to use CBD, or helping her find the right dosage and delivery method if she decides it’s right for her.