Stories of absent-mindedness, intense bouts of fear, periods of severe depression, and debilitating anxiety can make anyone fear postpartum life. While some may tease about “baby brain," pregnancy and childcare significantly alter a mother’s cognitive ability, which can end with stories that aren’t funny at all. The months following childbirth can make a woman feel like a stranger in her own body, and those feelings of detachment can be exacerbated by certain antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals.
Baby brain, mommy brain, momnesia, whatever colloquial term you want to use, the maternal brain begins to change during pregnancy and lasts through postpartum, which can lead to some dramatic lifestyle shifts.
There was no preparing for the lifestyle shift that came along with my baby, but I couldn’t have gotten through it without CBD and hemp products. During the whirlwind of change, I often didn’t feel like myself, because I would randomly experience a wild mood change or make obvious mistakes. I was lucky in that my mood swings never became dangerous, and I didn’t experience severe bouts of depression, but many women do experience serious postpartum difficulties.
An estimated 85 percent of women experience some type of mood disturbance during the postpartum period. Lack of sleep, chronic pain, hormone imbalances and other physical changes, coupled with the sudden intense responsibility of a new life, can result in significant damage to a woman’s mental health. This can make a new mother feel helpless and detached, especially when there is little in the way of support.
One study showed that women previously undiagnosed with OCD experienced obsessions and compulsions during the postpartum period, which correlated with higher levels of depression and anxiety. Another study showed a significant change in the gray matter of new mother’s brain, which can impact social cognition and last up to two years after childbirth.
To mitigate these feelings of despair and to increase mindfulness, some women are turning to CBD and other cannabis products in the postpartum phase. Maggie May Wilson, a metaphysical healer and reiki practitioner, was prescribed antidepressants after the birth of her first child. She quit them almost immediately because of how they made her feel. Instead she discovered reiki and began incorporating cannabis into her daily lifestyle. Wilson says that by the time she gave birth to her second child, cannabis was a big part in how she approached childbirth and postpartum.
“Using natural plant medicines guided me to work with a team of midwives and to give birth at home, no epidural this time, no hospital, just pure faith in the universe and myself," Wilson told Civilized. "Cannabis helped me during my entire pregnancy and especially in my postpartum period by helping me release patterns of fear that bring on unwanted circumstance.”
During pregnancy, Wilson used both THC and CBD (through vaporization and edibles) to fight nausea and sleeplessness. With the use of THC and CBD edibles through delivery, she was able to relax her muscles and have a quick (under three hours) and happy homebirth. Postpartum, she says using a combination of THC, CBD, and placenta encapsulation (prepared by her midwife), she was able to rebuild her appetite, balance her hormones, and keep her milk supply topped.
“My midwife came to my home on the fourth day (after delivery) and was so surprised at how good I felt, how much I was able to do, and how happy I was," said Wilson, who experienced irregular moods and depression during her first postpartum experience. "I was using CBD and cannabis every day and it was making a huge difference.”
For new mothers, Wilson suggests rubbing CBD topicals onto your temples and forehead if you are experiencing a headache from fatigue or are having trouble staying asleep. Because the mood disturbances and sleep deprivation can cause detachment from your newborn, she suggests using a CBD bath bomb with the baby to connect in a mindful way.
“Bathing together with your new baby is a ritual bonding exercise that can help you relax and bring your energy stores back up," she added.
There are a number of online resources, like CannaMommy.org, for mothers who are looking for ways CBD and other cannabis products can improve baby brain. For instance, Tokeativity, an international networking community for women in cannabis, offers online seminars and in-person events to educate mothers who want to use the plant. Another option called Splimm, a digital publication geared toward parents who consume cannabis, provides a wide variety of educational and entertaining content for new or timid cannabis users.
"[Cannabis] can help a new mother manage the waves of emotions that come with a new baby and can assist her with a lack of energy and focus due to negative amounts of sleep," said Kelly Bruce, co-founder and executive director of CannaMommy. "It can help manage the ‘baby blues’ by supporting your endocannabinoid system to stay regulated."
For me, CBD helped significantly with my chronic pain (from which I suffered before pregnancy, as well), and that, in turn, improved my mood and my focus. Postpartum, CBD topicals and edibles helped with neuropathy, concentration, emotional state, and energy in a safe and reliable way that I never found with pharmaceuticals. Even though I was beyond exhausted, I could feel myself being more present and mindful in those beginning weeks.
Dr. Lakisha Jenkins says that pregnancy does not impact the endocannabinoid system, but that the endocannabinoid system impacts pregnancy. “Considering the fact that the endogenous cannabinoid system is a regulatory system and it is formed very early in gestational age, pregnant women should take care to ensure there is proper support and supplementation of the system during their entire pregnancy," she said, adding that because endocannabinoids are found in breast milk, proper supplementation for nursing mothers is also paramount
While it isn’t a miracle cure, and there certainly remains a lot of research to be done, I felt confident in using CBD and hemp products. Cannabis has been used for in obstetrics for centuries: Before prohibition, physicians would prescribe it for PMS, difficult childbirth, menopause, cramps, nausea, and more. Using CBD helped alleviate many of my symptoms and helped me avoid further side effects from pharmaceutical pain and anti-anxiety medicine. Having been prescribed them for years before finding CBD, I was all too aware of the side effects, and knew I couldn’t be a present or mindful mother if I took that path.
Still, mothers need to be cautious in their approach to cannabis treatment, especially when child safety is a factor. Jessie Gill, cannabis nurse and founder of MarijuanaMommy.com, says that it is important to proceed as you would with any medication.
“I think there are two big contradicting misconceptions about using cannabinoid therapeutics postpartum. Some believe it’s perfectly safe, and others believe it’s extremely dangerous," Gill said. "The truth is, like all medications there are an array of risks and benefits.” She points out that cannabis has a slight risk for addiction, a possibility to act as a mild blood thinner (which is especially important for those delivered by cesarean), and may cause adverse reactions to certain medications.
“Most of all, the biggest risk is the law and the stigma. Just the smell of cannabis can trigger an investigation by child protective services," gill said. "The potential risks get more complex when we explore cannabis use by nursing mothers, because we really don’t know how cannabinoids affect a developing baby’s brain.”
Cannabis prohibition keeps many parents from experimenting with it as medication, with stories of Child Protective Services taking away children given CBD by their parents. (By the same token, however, there's little history of CPS showing up because a parent was heard to have been taking opioid painkillers, or other dangerous pharmaceuticals.)
“You look at the other medical options to help support new mothers and every single one of them has caused at least one death (most are in the thousands), hundreds of birth injuries, and serious side effects including death," said Kelly Bruce from CannaMommy.
While memes and movies continue to portray mothers drinking copious amounts of alcohol and abusing pharmaceuticals, cannabis users nonetheless risk legal consequences for sharing stories of self-medicating, even in states where cannabis is legal for adult use.
Postpartum should be a time of happiness, not turmoil, and anything that can safely promote a better quality of life during that crucial stage should be considered seriously.