The use of cannabis* by pregnant and lactating people, while very common, is heavily stigmatized. This stigma often prevents parents from seeking out the critical support and connection to resources they need. Fear of judgment and negative consequences (like involvement in child welfare) prevent pregnant and lactating people from trusting professionals on their support team like doctors, midwives, mental health professionals, and social workers, leaving parents alone to navigate a stressful and confusing topic. There is evidence to suggest that cannabis use during pregnancy can cause health risks, and parents deserve to know this information and receive the stigma-free support they need.
If you resonate with the stress and isolation of being a pregnant or lactating person who uses cannabis, know that you are not alone. Therefore, it is critical to work towards a culture of openness, where parents feel supported by providers to make informed, healthy decisions for themselves and their families.
Recently, Parents Thrive Colorado had the chance to speak with Janelle Jenkins, a parent and birth justice advocate and Heather Thompson, a Co-Deputy Director at Elephant Circle, a birth justice organization that works to support and amplify the self-determination of pregnant and perinatal people. We discussed why it is so stressful to be a pregnant or lactating person who uses cannabis, and where parents can find the support they need.
Janelle explained that she understands the mental burden that the stigma around cannabis use puts on parents. Many parents fear that if they disclose their cannabis use to a member of their support team, they risk judgment or even a report to child welfare, which is often a traumatic event for families. Janelle expressed that it would be more productive if parents could trust that doctors were solely focusing their energy on working with the patient to identify the root cause of the substance use. To get the highest quality of care, parents need to be able to be completely honest with their care team, and fear of a report to CPS makes that difficult.
It is important for parents to understand that it is within their right to inquire about an institution or practice’s policies around reporting to Child Protective Services (CPS), as these policies should be transparent. If potential involvement with CPS prevents you from having open and honest conversations with your healthcare provider, it may relieve stress to understand their reporting policies.
Heather explained that the most important aspect of supporting parents is to not be judgemental. New and expecting parents are already experiencing a stressful and vulnerable time in their lives, and their support systems need to meet them where they are if they want to provide effective care. Luckily, there are professionals like Heather available and ready to help families like yours stay healthy and safe.
While it is important to recognize the role that stigma plays, it is also critical for parents to understand that they hold power when it comes to interacting with the healthcare system. Parents deserve providers who treat them with respect and offer evidence-based information on cannabis use. Whether parents are using cannabis to address nausea, stress, anxiety, or mood problems, providers should be helpful in navigating decision-making about alternative or additional approaches. When choosing a maternity care provider, consider whether you feel respected, and if you trust them to provide the best care for you and your family. Also, don’t forget to check out the midwives in your network of care– their holistic approach to pregnancy and lactation may be a good fit for your experiences.
Because of these challenges, seeking support can be stressful, but you are not alone. Here are some resources that can help:
Are you a parent navigating substance use while pregnant or lactating? Contact Heather Thompson, who can help you access the support you need. Email Heather at email@example.com.
Looking for a doula who understands issues around substance use?
Tough as a Mother
If you are using alcohol or other drugs to cope with stress, you are not alone. Tough as a Mother offers support so you can be the strongest mom possible.
Special Connections – Substance Use Support
Special Connections, a program for pregnant women on Health First Colorado, helps women struggling with substance use have healthier pregnancies and babies by providing case management, individual and group counseling, and health education.
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*Due to the racist origins of the popularized term marijuana, the term cannabis is used throughout this blog. Learn more.