08/12/2014 03:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mom Who Smokes Pot Fights For Her Right To Breastfeed Her Preemie

Doctors at Oregon Health Science University Hospital forbade a new mom from breastfeeding her premature baby, local Portland news station KATU reports. The reason? She regularly uses medical marijuana.

Last week, Crystal Cain gave birth to to an 8-week premature baby girl named Karrisma. During the baby's time in the NICU, the mother was told that she would not be allowed to breastfeed her daughter due to her marijuana usage. Cain told KATU that her midwife advised her to smoke pot during her pregnancy as a way to control her anxiety and nausea.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against the use of marijuana during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, noting, "Street drugs such as PCP (phencyclidine), cocaine, and cannabis can be detected in human milk, and their use by breastfeeding mothers is of concern, particularly with regard to the infant’s long-term neurobehavioral development and thus are contraindicated." A 2009 study on the National Institute of Health's website suggested that babies exposed to marijuana through breast milk showed signs of "sedation, reduced muscular tonus, and poor sucking."

But Cain does not believe that her baby could be exposed to THC, the ingredient responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects, through breastfeeding. “There are several studies that indicate that it doesn't, it can't transfer through your milk ducts. Your body automatically kind of filters it,” she told KATU. She also expressed her concern over the general lack of research about breastfeeding and cannabis use. “It's such a touchy subject that nobody wants to mess with it."

Cain certainly has a point about the scarcity of information. University of Rochester Medical Center breastfeeding expert Ruth Lawrence told Yahoo Health, “One of the problems is there has not been a lot of studies on this.” She added, “When we talk about medications, there is a known dose, a known time for taking it, and knowledge about aspects such as solubility, so we can estimate the risk. The trouble with marijuana is that it sort of hangs around [in the body]. It’s not like taking an aspirin.”

Cases like Crystal Cain's only underscore the need for more research, particularly in light of the new state legislation about drug use. Oregon is just one of over twenty states that have legalized medical marijuana, and that number is growing.

Ultimately, the Oregon hospital reached a compromise with Cain. “We had the mom sign a waiver acknowledging the use of marijuana and the potential risks involved in it,” Dr. Charles Kilo, Oregon Health Science University’s chief medical officer, told the local news station. “We do understand the benefits of mothers' milk,” he added. “We also don't want to be caught in a situation where a mother continues to use and says that we never gave her information on it, never informed about the risks, and so it's really a way of documenting that the parents acknowledge the risks."

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