When my son was born, it was through an incision in my abdomen. I was medicated with morphine and several other drugs, and I don’t remember much of his birth. Three days later, I was given codeine and other medications to take at home and sent swiftly on my way. I felt uncertain about taking painkillers while breastfeeding, even though the doctors said it was okay. I used them for a couple days, but they made me feel so loopy that it was hard for me to remember if I’d fed the baby, they reduced my appetite so severely I became malnourished and dehydrated, and they made it difficult for me to connect with my infant son. When I held him, I could barely feel his weight, and I couldn’t tell if I was being gentle enough with him because my sense of touch was altered. So I stopped taking the codeine. After that, the physical pain of recovery from my surgery was more excruciating than I could have ever imagined. When the baby cried, sitting up was agonizing. Lifting him to my breast was literally gut-wrenching.
Then, a couple days later, the anxiety hit me: a hot tsunami of fear the likes of which I’d never experienced. Unrelenting feelings of terror—that there was something wrong with the baby, that he was going to die—plagued my every waking moment. I had endless irrational fears that would not be quelled, such as that my husband would die and I’d be left alone with the baby. I would imagine gruesome scenario after gruesome scenario, like my brain was a horror writer trying out new gore pitches on me. I checked myself into the emergency room, unable to stop sobbing or the intrusive, cyclical thoughts. The doctor on duty told me that she’d had a baby a year earlier. She explained that things get easier. But for months the situation stayed the same. During this time, I felt utterly alone. I called my doctor and told her I thought I might have postpartum depression. She told me to hang in there.
At the insistence of my husband, I looked for a therapist experienced in postpartum depression. I couldn’t find anybody nearby that my insurance covered, so I decided to just try to hang in there as I was told to do. I wished so badly I could smoke just a tiny bit of pot. I knew it would help, but “Moms don’t smoke pot,” I thought to myself more times than I can count. Why not? One reason—perhaps the most important, that every mom blog opined: “It’s dangerous for babies.”
At one of my son’s checkups, I arrived in tears and asked his doctor to take my temperature. “Are you drinking two glasses of wine a night?” she asked me. My mouth dropped open. “I can do that?” She nodded and smiled. “Up to two a night,” she confirmed. I didn’t drink two glasses of wine a night before I got pregnant or became a mom, but I sure as hell was about to start.
Celia Behar, a high-energy woman with cascading dark curls, is one of the mothers supporting a new parenting and pot movement. Her popular blog Lil’ Mamas discusses maternal matters in a candid way. Recently, Behar wrote about her own struggles with parenting and her choice to use cannabis recreationally, and also medicinally, to help cope with the traumas and hardships of being a divorced mother of two.
“I never really came back from the first round of postpartum depression,” Behar explains. “I was accepting what I thought was motherhood. I found that before I started treating myself with cannabis, I was really short with my older daughter and I didn’t really connect with her.” Her daughter, Behar says, will occasionally suggest that her mom get high in times of stress. But for Behar, it’s certainly not an everyday thing. “I tend to try to get through my day without using any cannabis,” she says. Behar thinks it’s normal to have a glass of wine around children while, say, cooking dinner—she just chooses to vape instead of drink.
Behar is a trained mental-health counselor, therapist and life coach who lives in a state where recreational and medicinal marijuana are legal. She admits to using a vape pen in front of her daughters, and sees this simple, smokeless act as an opening for her to have an honest discussion with her children about cannabis use.
Behar went public with her story after an in-depth discussion with her sister, who happens to be a Child Protective Services officer. “That’s why most moms won’t talk about using cannabis, because they’re worried,” Behar says. “CPS is going to open a case on you if you smoke pot while pregnant. It’s still a Schedule I drug. It shouldn’t be, but it is.”
Zoloft and other mood-stabilizing drugs are often prescribed to help women cope with the pressures of motherhood. And mothers are often ushered with a wink and a nod into the “mommy wine club.” Society approves if moms, within reason, drink their blues away. Since it’s “just wine,” and it’s legal, it raises nary an eyebrow.
“Before I started smoking again, I was drinking a lot—and I’m not a drinker, really,” Behar says. “I needed a cocktail every night, and that’s not who I am.” That changed following a conversation with a childhood friend of hers, Tom Grubbs. Grubbs is a partner in Moto Perpetuo, an Oregon produce farm known for its brag-worthy heirloom tomatoes, as well as its incredible high-quality cannabis. Behar recalls: “We were talking and Tom said, ‘You seem anxious and angry,’ and I broke down and told him since I had kids I’ve had anxiety and I can’t make it stop. He said, ‘Do you still smoke pot?’ I said, ‘I’m a mom, moms don’t smoke pot.’ He said, ‘Maybe you should think about that.’”
The discussion stuck with Behar, and she decided to give it a try. She struck up a relationship with the farm’s owner, David Hoyle, his wife, Lori, and their family. Behar discovered she could trust Moto Perpetuo to supply her with organic, premium-quality cannabis to help treat her conditions. Her blog Lil’ Mamas even publicly endorsed them.
Behar suffered, and cannabis helped, but many mothers didn’t have any sympathy. They responded with a backlash of accusation, judgment and harsh criticism. However, for every negative response, there was a mom moved by Behar’s story, wanting to know how to use cannabis to help cope with her maternal pain and trauma, too.
It’s all too common for people to point at other families and say that they’re doing it all wrong. When the welfare of a child is clearly in danger, there is good reason for speaking out. Other times, it falls into a gray area. Is it okay to use cannabis if you have young children? The government now says yes, depending on where you live, just like it’s acceptable to drink a glass of wine or beer if you have young children, even encouraged. But how about in front of your children? With cannabis legal in 30 states and counting and mothers admitting to using weed on social media—and the backlash that can follow—it is a new area of discussion.
Jill Trinchero and her husband started their edibles business She Don’t Know in 2015. Together, the two—with help from Trinchero’s mother-in-law—produce a line of THC-infused cookies and coconut snacks. They are parents to two teenage daughters, who Trinchero explains are thoroughly educated in cannabis: “Since they were small, any time we had the opportunity to teach them how marijuana is used as medicine, we took that opportunity, helping them understand that there’s this plant that really helps people, and that it’s not 100 percent legal. It’s not OK for kids. Once you’re of legal age, you can try it if you like, and don’t ever feel like you have to, but it’s an adult substance just like alcohol—so that’s what we teach them.”
Trinchero sees the benefits of using cannabis while parenting, though she won’t use it in front of her children. “It has made me a better mother. There are times when I want to be a kind mother and I need to slow down and see what is most important, and sometimes cannabis can do that for me… You don’t want the stresses of being a parent to affect your children in any negative way. I want them to see me [as] kind and patient.”
A thoughtful, intelligent woman, Trinchero is less revealing about her personal reasons for consuming the plant medicinally, though she will admit that she uses cannabis to relax and manage anxiety. “My medical record is private; the medications we use are private.” This touches on a common dilemma mothers and women who use medical marijuana face: They are often put into a position in which they feel they have to explain themselves and what their condition is, and then steel themselves for the judgment that will inevitably follow.
It might be easy to dismiss a mom who says cannabis helps with postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety if you’re one of the lucky 85 percent of mothers who do not experience PPD or PPA, or a childless person, or a man. PPD/PPA is different than the “baby blues,” which up to 80 percent of new mothers experience—emotional postpartum feelings that fade on their own within a few weeks. PPD/PPA, as in my case, is a category-five-tornado version of the baby blues, featuring intense attacks of sorrow, fear, anxiety, withdrawal and, for some, an inability to function or extreme difficulty in doing everyday activities. It can also interfere with the ability of the mother and baby to bond. In rare cases, postpartum depression can result in obsessive-compulsive-disorder behaviors and even psychosis.
PPD/PPA affects women of all ages, backgrounds and levels of success, including celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow and Adele. The status of celeb moms who come out with their struggles brings more visibility to the challenges of motherhood. On the other hand, status and visibility can work to derail public understanding. Ann Coulter said pot makes users “retarded” in a rant at Politicon in July 2017. Around the same time, Portland mom Kayla Marlow posted an image of herself on her Facebook page smoking a bong while breastfeeding, which drew a massive backlash, even from some in the pot and parenting community.
Jenn Lauder and her husband run a pot and parenting lifestyle website, Splimm. A Wesleyan graduate and former school teacher, Lauder speaks intelligently on cannabis from a highly informed perspective. When the photo of Marlow went viral, Lauder was asked for her thoughts by a local news station covering the story. “I took a stand and said, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t be smoking anything next to an infant’s head,’” Lauder says. She laments that her “canna-momma” community felt like that comment meant she “sold them out,” but Lauder is holding fast.
“Responsible use matters, because of our kids’ safety and because of the optics of this movement,” Lauder explains. “I don’t think I’d hold a cup of hot coffee over my infant’s head. I was getting things like ‘Would you move your baby away from a campfire?’ and my answer was ‘Yes. I would. Absolutely.’” Lauder clarifies that the smoke and heat were her concern, not that the THC could be consumed by the baby through breast milk. “I made it absolutely clear that I have no issue consuming cannabis as a lactating mom. That’s not my issue at all.”
The popular mother’s information site KellyMom.com offers a treasure trove of topics on breastfeeding and other maternal concerns, including insight into the effects on babies of cannabis consumed through breast milk in a piece titled “Breastfeeding and Marijuana.” Some of the information is based on a 2001 medical-magazine report that THC makes its way into breast milk. The study, by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs, titled “The Transfer of Drugs and Other Chemicals Into Human Milk,” states that marijuana falls into the category of “Drugs of Abuse for Which Adverse Effects on the Infant During Breastfeeding Have Been Reported.”
The study says that, as of 2001, there had only been one report in medical literature showing no effect on infants, but adds that marijuana has a very long half-life for some components, with an addendum: “The Committee on Drugs strongly believes that nursing mothers should not ingest drugs of abuse, because they are hazardous to the nursing infant and to the health of the mother.” Yet it offers no further details as to what those hazards might include. Psychotropic medications such as anti-anxiety, antidepressant and neuroleptic drugs were categorized as “Drugs for Which the Effect on Nursing Infants Is Unknown but May Be of Concern.” Both morphine and codeine were categorized as “Drugs That Have Been Associated With Significant Effects on Some Nursing Infants and Should Be Given to Nursing Mothers With Caution.” The report states that no effects were found with codeine and that morphine could possibly be found in measurable amounts in an infant’s blood. Suffice to say, my baby was probably born high on morphine. Though the report states there is no effect on infants, that wasn’t the way I would have liked my baby to have entered the world.
To further explore the effects of cannabis on babies from a medical standpoint, I asked three pediatricians if I could consume cannabis while breastfeeding my son. None of them could answer with certainty—all admitted to lacking the knowledge necessary to offer a conclusive yea or nay. How are mothers supposed to be educated on the topic when even their doctors aren’t?
Many of the toys, play mats, carpeting, furniture, paints, bedding and clothing—even formula, food and the very water we drink in some cities—are toxic to our infants, our pets and ourselves. Items made in American and foreign factories are treated with carcinogenic chemicals and hazardous compounds that aren’t good for babies to put into their mouths, play with, breathe in or sleep on. Through a process known as “off-gassing,” these substances are released into the air and enter our homes, lungs and bodies. As a person who began smoking pot as a teenager and was raised in an environment where it was consumed with some regularity from as far back as I can remember, I can attest that, at least in my opinion, I turned out okay. I’m much more concerned with air and water quality, the toxic state of the world and the poisonous chemicals in our everyday household items than I am about a mom responsibly treating her PPD/PPA with cannabis.
What became clear to me from interviewing moms who use cannabis, reading studies, speaking to doctors, and contemplating the pros and cons of it myself is that the question shouldn’t be “Is consuming cannabis while breastfeeding and/or parenting acceptable, hazardous or questionable?” The question is “How can we get moms and parents the support, education and resources that they need so they can make the decisions necessary to be the best parents they can be?”
As cannabis becomes increasingly legal, now is the time for unbiased, well-funded studies on its effects on breastfeeding babies. Until that information becomes available, cautious mothers may opt to lessen anxiety with meditation, counseling, yoga, exercise, a healthy diet, laughter, finding time to do things they love—even if it’s only for five minutes a day—and the support of friends, family and loved ones.
Whether cannabis is smoked, vaped, eaten or otherwise consumed, I can attest that, as someone who has had a lot of experience with it over the years, as high as I’ve been (and that’s pretty damn high), there’s not any level of stoned or any strain of weed in existence that could keep me from loving and protecting my child.