If you’re expecting a baby, one of the first questions you might be asked by friends and family is “how do you feel?” Like many women, especially if you’re in the early stages, chances are you’re not feeling so great. Morning sickness, aches and pains, fatigue, insomnia and much more can be a real nuisance during pregnancy and it’s normal to want relief. However, in recent years, a disturbing trend to curb symptoms has been steadily rising—marijuana use. Now, with its’ legalization, more and more pregnant women are using marijuana, which raises concerns about the risks to the developing fetus. Recent research reported in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) shows marijuana use increased 62% from 2002 through 2014. Studies indicate that women 18 to 25 years of age are at greatest risk, with the highest rates of use.
THC from Marijuana Found in Breast Milk
Marijuana is a plant, which may seem “natural” to many—but it’s also a drug that affects the brain, nervous system, heart and more. Research on marijuana’s effects in pregnancy is limited, but evidence shows it can affect brain development in the fetus. Marijuana use also poses a greater risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight and stillbirth. Children whose mothers used marijuana during pregnancy may have more difficulties with impulse control, attention, visual and learning problems.
Marijuana’s main chemical, a psychoactive compound known as THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is what affects the fetus. THC is quickly absorbed through the mother’s lungs when smoked or vaped and through the digestive tract when eaten. It may stay in the body for weeks. The chemical can cross the placenta to reach the fetus and is passed on in breast milk during breastfeeding. Pot smoke also exposes the fetus to many of the same dangerous compounds as tobacco smoke, but at higher concentrations.
Finding Safer Treatments for Nausea, Anxiety During Pregnancy
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women stop using marijuana when trying to get pregnant, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. ACOG also advises women to not use marijuana to deal with nausea, anxiety or other symptoms, but to talk with their doctor or healthcare provider about other pregnancy-safe approaches.
If you’re currently using marijuana and are pregnant, tell your doctor, just as you would for any other substance, including drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Your conversations with your doctor are confidential and important for getting the care that you and your child need.
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