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Stanford expert weighs in on risks of marijuana in pregnancy and breastfeeding

Doctors are worried that marijuana legalization is harming vulnerable populations, such as infants exposed to the drug during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Widespread legalization of marijuana, including California's recent shift to allow recreational marijuana use by adults, has led doctors to worry that the drug may be harming vulnerable populations.

Stanford adolescent medicine specialist Seth Ammerman, MD, is especially concerned about consequences for children's growth and neurological development if their mothers use marijuana during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Ammerman was part of a team that wrote a new American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report, published today in Pediatrics, to provide guidance on the issue.

story about the report in today's LA Times explains:

'Women should definitely be counseled that it’s not a good idea to use marijuana while pregnant,' said Dr. Seth Ammerman, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford who worked on the report.

In addition, he said, 'if you’re breastfeeding, we would encourage you to cut back or quit.' However, if a new mother is not able or willing to do so, she should continue nursing. 'The benefits of breastfeeding would outweigh the potential exposure to the infant,' he said.

A companion report in Pediatrics addresses the degree to which the active substances in marijuana can reach breast milk.

The report that Ammerman helped write explains that marijuana use may cause problems for fetal growth and for some behaviors after birth. Doctors should advise women that marijuana has not been demonstrated to be a safe treatment for nausea from morning sickness, a use that is sometimes touted on social media. From the report's conclusion:

Discussing what is known about adverse consequences of marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding at prenatal visits with either the pediatrician or the obstetric provider is an important component of promoting the best health outcomes for both the pregnant woman and the infant. Legalization of marijuana may give the false impression that marijuana is safe.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon

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