Does the breast milk of cannabis users hurt early premature infants?

11th October 2021

Researchers have revealed that breast milk that is contaminated with THC may not actually harm or endanger early premature infants – at least in the short term.

According to a press release, many neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) restrict the use of breast milk from THC-positive women, as THC has been found to pass through breast milk, with unknown effects.

However, science has shown that feeding these preterm babies breast milk is one of the best ways to improve their outcomes and leads to fewer infections and intestinal issues, improved brain growth, and better overall development compared to feeding them infant formula.

The study abstract, “Maternal Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Assessing In-Hospital Outcomes of Early Preterm Infants,” which is to be presented at the virtual American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition, analysed the medical records of 763 early preterm infants from 2014 to 2020.

Researchers found that 17% of mothers tested positive for THC at the time of delivery.

Natalie L. Davis, MD, MMSc, abstract author and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Attending Neonatologist at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, said: “Providing breast milk from THC-positive women to preterm infants remains controversial since long-term effects of this exposure are unknown.

“For this reason, we continue to strongly recommend that women avoid marijuana use while pregnant and while nursing their babies. Our study, however, did provide some reassuring news in terms of short-term health effects.

“It definitely indicates that more research is needed in this area to help provide women and doctors with further guidance.”

Researchers compared early preterm infants who were fed breast milk from THC-positive mothers with those who were fed either formula or breast milk from THC-negative mothers and found no differences in short-term health impacts such as breathing difficulties, lung development, and feeding issues.

Overall, early preterm babies born to mothers who tested positive for cannabis at delivery were similarly healthy by the time of their discharge when fed their mother’s breast milk compared to those who did not receive their mother’s breast milk.

Dr Davis added: “Teasing out the effects of THC can be very difficult to study.

“We found that women who screened positive for THC were frequently late to obtain prenatal care, which can have a detrimental effect on their baby separate from marijuana use. This is important to note for future public health interventions.”

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