Communicating the harmful effects of marijuana on both a developing child and mother is essential as a growing number of pregnant women are utilizing marijuana as a way to treat nausea, vomiting and pregnancy-related anxiety. In the United States, one study found that 7% of pregnant women reported using marijuana in the past month.
MARIJUANA’S EFFECTS ON A CHILD IN THE WOMB
Marijuana use during pregnancy is harmful to a baby’s health. The chemicals in marijuana, particularly tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), pass through the placenta to the baby and may harm the baby's development.
Research shows that using marijuana while pregnant can cause health problems in newborns, including:
A greater risk for stillbirth
Preterm birth (before 37 weeks gestation)
Low birth weight
Abnormal neurological development
The effects to the baby may be subtle or undetectable at first with side effects developing months later or during adolescent and adult life. Some researchers even noted that prenatal marijuana exposure led to nongenetic influences on gene expression that could lead to transgenerational consequences.
Because marijuana affects memory and cognitive ability in adults, researchers believe it might have a similar impact on a developing baby. Marijuana is known to have an impact on a baby's brain neurotransmitters and biochemistry. Marijuana use during pregnancy can also decrease a baby's intake of oxygen and can alter fetal heart rate. One group of researchers found that the area of the brain controlling emotion, called the amygdala, showed abnormal function in male babies whose mothers used marijuana during pregnancy.
Marijuana use can also alter a person's judgment and cause dizziness, adding to faintness some women experience during pregnancy, and increasing the risk of falling and injury.
MARIJUANA’S EFFECTS ON BREASTFEEDING & BEYOND
Research shows that chemicals from marijuana can be passed to a baby through breast milk. THC is stored in body fat and is slowly released over time, meaning a baby could still be exposed even after a person has stopped using marijuana. Thus, mothers who are breastfeeding must refrain from all marijuana use.
Even inhaling marijuana smoke can be harmful to mothers and babies. Research shows that secondhand marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxic and cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Studies have also indicated that THC, the psychoactive or mind-altering compound in marijuana, may also be passed to babies through secondhand smoke.
In light of the growing trend of pregnant women turning to pot for morning sickness and other symptoms, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its first official guidelines on marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding in 2018. The recommendations reaffirm that pregnant and nursing moms should not use marijuana in any form as it is not safe for pregnant women or babies. This includes CBD oils and edible marijuana products.
Due to the growing popularity of using marijuana in vaping devices, the Food and Drug Administration also recommends that pregnant women should not use any vaping product, regardless of the substance.
As more states legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana, it is important to understand the impact marijuana can have on mothers and babies. If a client at your center is suffering from pregnancy-related nausea or pregnancy/postpartum-related anxiety or pain, reinforce healthy pregnancy and postpartum practices and direct them to their primary care provider or trusted physician for safe symptom relief.
Consult your center’s medical team today to ensure your staff is prepared to answer questions and offer helpful referrals and resources to your clients.