The Australian Medical Association has condemned a picture of a woman breastfeeding a small baby while smoking a bong.
The shocking image from the US – which has garnered support in Australia – has not only sparked outrage amongst the local medical fraternity, but also revealed a sub-culture of women who happily smoke marijuana during pregnancy and when nursing, despite the health risks.
Oregon mother Kayla Marlow caused outrage when she posted a “beautiful” image of a friend helping her smoke marijuana as she breastfed her young child to a pro-cannabis Facebook page.
The confronting image was shared internationally and prompted widespread condemnation, with the young mother being accused of putting her child’s health at risk through exposure to the smoke and its chief chemical component, THC, in her milk.
The image also brought to light a number of online parenting support groups which advocate for women to use marijuana throughout their pregnancy and while breastfeeding – some of which have thousands of followers across multiple platforms.
CannaMamaClinic posted an image on Instagram of a woman appearing to smoke cannabis from a vapouriser while clutching a feeding newborn in response to the viral post.
Its Facebook group, which has several reincarnations in case it is deleted, features numerous images of “multitasking” mothers smoking and nursing.
“Thanks for being so progressive,” one Instagram user wrote.
An Adelaide woman said the image attracted a disturbing response Down Under when it was posted in an Australian group, which has since been deleted.
“You should of [sic] seen some of the reply photos, some chicks were blowing it directly in the babies face as if sharing was caring type thing,” she wrote on Facebook.
CannaMamaClinic has acknowledged there is a risk associated with children being exposed to second-hand smoke but spruiks the mantra, “I medicate as I choose”.
“We believe parents have the right to weigh the risk vs benefit and decide what’s best for their family,” it said.
The online group is also adamant “smoking cannabis while pregnant hasn’t been directly linked with adverse neonatal outcomes” and that shaming mothers who smoke is a violation of their “bodily autonomy”.
“We believe that [pregnant] women have the right to choose cannabis over pharmaceuticals as the safer alternative.”
Founding member Jeanna Hoch said she started the advocacy group when she faced discrimination for smoking marijuana to treat her severe morning sickness for seven months of her son’s pregnancy in 2004.
In 2013 when she conceived her second child, Ms Hoch said she had a “better understanding of the plant’s ability to heal” and used cannabis up until the moment she went into labour with her daughter.
She created the Facebook group in 2014 after being forced to take a drug test, which came back positive for marijuana use, when the drug was legalised for recreational use in Colorado.
“The hospital forced me to speak with one of their social workers before they would discharge us,” Ms Hoch wrote.
“I gave birth twice that week: to a child and a new passion for cannabis activism.”
Ms Hoch said after creating the group she uncovered an online community of women who claimed their rights had been violated when they or their children were drug tested without consent and subsequently “threatened” by government bodies.
She has since posted fan photos that show pregnant women who appear to be smoking cannabis from glass pipes, bongs, vaporisers or joints, along with mothers pumping breast milk or nursing in a cloud of marijuana smoke.
The mother-of-two said she is currently under investigation by child protective services for exposing her three-year-old to second-hand smoke in a Facebook live video.
Vice president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Tony Bartone said numerous studies have detected THC in breastmilk.
“Obviously a baby’s brain is still in a very developmental, immature stage of forming and marijuana is associated with significant long-term health risks, including psychosis.
“There is absolutely no reasons to put young developing brains at risk and there is no way we could even begin to endorse such a practice.”
Dr Bartone claimed there is no way to determine a “safe level” of THC for babies and said there is a serious lack of information on the extent of long-term damage.
“We know in adults and older teens, marijuana does create long term health risks.
“We would assume those risks are magnified for developing babies in the first few months of their lives.”
Sydney doctor Penny Adams said there are a number of health, welfare and legal ramifications for mothers breastfeeding and smoking marijuana.
“First of all, smoking may cause them to have impaired judgement and they are looking after a new baby,” Dr Adams told Nine.com.au.
“The next issue is passive smoking. If they smoke in the same room with the baby, there is a risk of exposure to chemicals from the smoke and an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). “
Dr Adams said there was also a risk of the active chemical in marijuana, THC, being transferred into the baby’s system as regular smokers will store it in their fat cells.
“There have been a small number of studies that show slight delayed motor development.”
According to the Australian Medical Association, there are more than 60 psycho-active chemicals in cannabis.
Use of cannabis in pregnant women has been “consistently” linked to “lower birth-weight babies and pre-term birth, but does not appear to increase the risk of miscarriage or birth abnormalities”.
“Some studies suggest that children exposed to cannabis in utero may have slight impairment in higher cognitive processes such as perceptual organisation and planning.”
Dr Adams also argued there are legal implications for passing on an illegal substance to a child.
Drug use is a factor Australian child protective services consider when determining if a child is at risk of significant harm or neglect.
“A number of studies have found that parents who misuse substances tend to have poor parenting styles,” a NSW Department of Community Services report stated.
“All substances will alter to different degrees an individual’s state of consciousness, memory, affect regulation and impulse control.”