Breastfeeding and cannabis — understudied, still punished

Sarah Haas

Seven months into her pregnancy, Carrie Templeton fell down the stairs. The story that unfolds is her account of what happened next.

She and the baby were OK except that Templeton was left with severe back pain. Her doctor prescribed painkillers that Templeton begrudgingly took. Not wanting to expose the baby to opioids unnecessarily while breastfeeding, she quit taking the drug soon after the baby was born. After consulting with her pediatrician, she replaced her pills with cannabis in hopes of caring for herself while minimizing the risk her treatment posed on her breastfeeding baby.

In February, Child Protective Services (CPS) showed up at her doorstep, following up on an anonymous tip with no specific complaint. While in her home, CPS found a glass of wine on the counter, a tapped bowl of cannabis by the back door and a tiny bruise on the then 3-month-old baby’s cheek. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to bring the Templetons into the folds of Boulder County family court.

During the family’s intake, performed in preparation for the upcoming hearing, Templeton underwent drug testing during which she volunteered her marijuana use, under the impression that it was her legally protected right. But after testing positive for THC and in light of her admission, she claims she was treated like an addict — ordered to get clean, attend counseling and be subject to random urine analyses. For the next two weeks, the court collected information about the risks of breastfeeding while using marijuana. The four-page summary report took a clear position against the practice in both its tone and information. Citing data and opinions from federal, state and local agencies, the report suggested that .8 percent of THC passes down from mother to baby through breast milk with mixed and moderate evidence that marijuana use has adverse effects on cognitive ability as the child ages.

Underemphasized in the county report are strong acknowledgements that there is not enough information to draw a conclusion about the safety of a baby ingesting THC in breast milk. With federal prohibition still ongoing, there are significant barriers to medical and scientific research on marijuana based on its classification as a Schedule 1 drug.

Ultimately, on March 15, the court’s decision was in line with the tone of the research the caseworker compiled, and Boulder’s Magistrate Carolyn McLean ordered Templeton to either stop breast feeding or stop using marijuana. At the court’s discretion, the baby is subject to drug testing to ensure that Templeton complies.

“[Magistrate McLean] told me that she wasn’t a fan of marijuana,” Templeton says. “And that she wouldn’t allow me to breastfeed my baby.”

Templeton resents the implication that she is putting her baby at risk. She believed she acted in the best interest of herself and her child by consulting her pediatrician and performing her own research on the available studies.

There are not many studies about the effects of breastfeeding while consuming marijuana — just three — says Helen Thomson, executive director of Elephant Circle, a consumer advocacy and reproductive justice organization. She asserts that none of them are scientifically robust, with insufficient sample numbers, no peer review and poor or non-existent controls. Despite the insufficient methodology behind the studies, they are frequently cited and, whether through an appeal to popular culture or sheer repetition, have worked their way into popular belief and legal precedent.

And so we arrive at an all-too-familiar moment in this post-prohibition era — a time without precedent and with insufficient and inconclusive evidence to guide us forward. But we should not underestimate our propensity for jumping to conclusions — the admission that more research is needed on this issue is a crucial concession to the moralism that defined the war on drugs.

Even the state legislature recognizes the need to not make judgements prematurely, as evidenced by their struggle to take a position about maternal cannabis consumption. Last year, Colorado lawmakers rejected a ban on selling marijuana to pregnant women and another measure to post warning signs in pot shops, citing the lack of concrete evidence to justify such measures.

In lieu of the family court’s order, Thompson is working with Templeton to protect her rights. Thompson says she is concerned by the punitive attitudes expressed in this case and worries that cases like this wrongly punish women and their families.

“This is not an endorsement that cannabis use by pregnant or nursing mothers is safe,” Thompson says. “Rather, it is an assertion of a woman’s legal right to use marijuana and a recognition of her autonomy as both a mother and a woman.”

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

  • Carrie Anne
  • MarieT123

    Why would you be be willing to risk your child’s safety by smoking and breastfeeding? If you are wrong, then it is your child who will suffer. If the pot is the only thing that helps you, then use formula for the baby.

    If there were robust studies that found no evidence of harm that would be one thing. I just cannot image a mother being so reckless with her child’s well being.

    • Jhigg

      Filling her body with opiods is a better dicision? Are you serious?

      • MarieT123

        Apparently not a thoughtful person. She has another choice: treat herself with whatever substance is appropriate for her and then formula feed the baby.

        Or… LaLecheLeague does provide donated breast milk.

    • bleeth

      I could say the same thing about polluting your body with prescription narcotics.

      I guess that’s acceptable in your book?

      • MarieT123

        How about formula feeding while she is on meds? Lots and lots of babies do perfectly well on formula. If she cannot function without some sort of pain medication, then she needs to understand her baby’s best interest is most important. And if she has to take pain medication, then that means no breast feeding.

        Believe it or not, sometimes being a parent means making responsible choices and realizing you simply cannot have everything you want. Baby comes first.

        • bleeth

          While I agree with using alternatives like formula when on any type of meds, the problem I have in general is the obvious bias against those that choose to use marijuana over prescription meds for “whatever”. I believe people should be able to use whatever meds work for them and that includes MMJ.

          Yes, you must be a responsible parent but throwing this woman into child protective services was going way overboard. Ask yourself this question. Would this even be an issue if she was on narcotics?

        • Carrie Anne

          Are you aware of the dangers of formula feeding? Or the fact that the third ingredient in formula is sugar? I have done much research on both sides of the issue and marijuana has been proven to be not only not harmful but actually beneficial. Check out Dr. Dryers work in Jamaica at Also our breastmilk has endocannibinoids in it that do the exact same thing as the cannibinoids in marijuana. How could a plant that can stop seizures and stop cancer cells from growing also be detrimental to ones health? That makes no sense. The plant is understudied and underestimated and I am years ahead of my time but once the research is done doctors will be giving pregnant women cannabis pills for their nausea and stress, just you wait and see.
          Also I smoked and breastfed my older daughter who is now 8, top of her class, reads a grade level ahead, the only girl in challenge math, got accepted into a special science club, and does amazing artwork. She has never had an ear infection or unnecessary ER trip, she eats healthy foods and does not have ADD or ADHD, which is more than can be said for most children, so apparently I’m not that thoughtless and I’m probably onto something with my responsible, researched, medical, marijuana use.

          • MarieT123

            For your children’s sake, I sincerely hope you are right. I just would never experiment with my children like that.

          • bleeth

            Carrie Anne, Thanks for that informative post. I respect your position on formula and why you choose not to use it.

            We all know the ultimate issue here are reefer madness clowns that don’t understand how cannabis affects the body.

            Technically, this plant has never killed anyone using it. There is not one report of anyone dying from the thousands of years it’s been used.

  • Art KIng

    FYI- Cannabinoids are in Breast Milk!

    The substance is nontoxic and causes brain cell growth, while protecting nerves and brain cells, among other well documented and well known benefits. THC kills brain cancer cells!

    More research is needed into the obvious benefits of this miracle plant. Use the internet to self educate.

    “Five-year follow-up of rural Jamaican children whose mothers used marijuana during pregnancy.

    Hayes JS1, Lampart R, Dreher MC, Morgan L.

    Author information


    This research provides data on the development of 59 Jamaican children, from birth to age 5 years, whose mothers used marijuana during pregnancy. Approximately one-half of the sample used marijuana during pregnancy and were matched with non-users according to age, parity, and socioeconomic status. Testing of the children was done at 1, 3, and 30 days of age with the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scales and at ages 4 and 5 years with the McCarthy Scales of Children’s Abilities. Data about the child’s home environment and temperament were collected from direct observations as well as from standardized questionnaires. The results show no significant differences in developmental testing outcomes between children of marijuana-using and non-using mothers except at 30 days of age when the babies of users had more favourable scores on two clusters of the Brazelton Scales: autonomic stability and reflexes. The developmental scores at ages 4 and 5 years were significantly correlated to certain aspects of the home environment and to regularity of basic school (preschool) attendance.”

    “Cannabinoids, like those found in marijuana, occur naturally in human breast milk”

    see also:

    There are more side effects for newborns from Big Pharma drugs! Big pharma side effects cause more auto accidents than cannabis.

    Cannabis does not effect the motor skills as any skateboarder or snowboarder can attest. In fact you try riding a skateboard down a railing.