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How Harmful Is Smoking While Breast-Feeding?

Overview

Smoking not only affects a growing baby during pregnancy, but it might have drawbacks for a breast-feeding mom.

Smoking might reduce a breast-feeding mom’s milk supply. Passing nicotine and other toxins via breast milk is also associated with increased incidences of fussiness, nausea, and restlessness in babies.

Breast-feeding offers many advantages for a new baby, including a boosted immune system. Organizations like the World Health Organization recommend breast-feeding as the healthiest nutritional source for a baby in their first few months of life, and beyond.

If a new mother continues to smoke and chooses to breast-feed, there are several factors to consider.

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Nicotine in breast milk

How Much Nicotine Is Transmitted Via Breast Milk?

While some chemicals aren’t transmitted via breast milk, others are. An example is nicotine, one of the active ingredients in cigarettes.

The amount of nicotine transferred into breast milk is twice that of nicotine transmitted through the placenta during pregnancy. But the benefits of breast-feeding are still thought to outweigh the risks of nicotine exposure while breast-feeding.

Effects

Smoking’s Effects on Mom and Baby

Smoking not only transmits harmful chemicals to your baby via your breast milk, it can also affect a new mother’s milk supply. This might cause her to produce less milk.

Women who smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day experience reduced milk supply and changes in the milk’s composition.

Other effects associated with smoking and milk supply include:

  • Babies of women who smoke are more likely to experience altered sleep patterns.
  • Babies exposed to smoke via breast-feeding are more susceptible to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and the development of allergy-related diseases like asthma.
  • Nicotine present in breast milk can lead to behavioral changes in a baby like crying more than usual.

A number of harmful chemicals have been detected in cigarettes, including:

  • arsenic
  • cyanide
  • lead
  • formaldehyde

There’s unfortunately little information available about how these may or may not be passed to a baby via breast-feeding.

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E-cigarettes

E-cigarettes

E-cigarettes are new to the market, so long-term research hasn’t been conducted about their safety. But e-cigarettes still contain nicotine, which means they still might pose a risk to mother and baby.

The health benefits of breast-feeding outweigh the health risks of smoking while breast-feeding, but the risks are real. The best time to cut back or quit smoking is as soon as you are pregnant (or better yet, when you are trying). Secondhand smoke is a real risk, too. Try to get everyone on board with making your baby’s environment smoke-free.
Karen Richardson Gill, MD, FAAP

Tips for smokers

Recommendations for Moms Who Smoke

Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for a newborn baby. But the safest breast milk doesn’t have harmful chemicals from cigarettes or e-cigarettes.

If a mom smokes fewer than 20 cigarettes per day, the risks from nicotine exposure are not as significant. But if a mom smokes more than 20 to 30 cigarettes per day, this increases the baby’s risk for:

  • irritability
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

If you do continue to smoke, wait at least one hour after you finish smoking before breast-feeding your baby. This will reduce their risk to chemical exposure.

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How to quit

How to quit

Ready to quit smoking? Try nicotine patches, which offer a defense against nicotine cravings.

Nicotine patches are an option for new moms wishing to kick the habit and breast-feed. According to La Leche League International, nicotine patches are preferred to nicotine gum.

That’s because nicotine patches give off a steady, low-dose amount of nicotine. Nicotine gum can create a higher fluctuation in nicotine levels.

Patches to try include:

 NicoDerm CQ

 NicoDerm CQ

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Secondhand smoke

Secondhand smoke

Even if a breast-feeding mother is able to give up smoking while she feeds her child, it’s important for her to avoid secondhand smoke whenever possible.

Secondhand smoke increases a baby’s risk for infections such as pneumonia. It also increases their risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

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Takeaway

Takeaway

Breast-feeding is healthier for a baby, even when their mother smokes, than formula feeding.

If you’re a new mom and are breast-feeding, smoking as little as possible and smoking after breast-feeding can help to reduce nicotine exposure for your baby.

Breast milk is an excellent nutritional choice for your baby. Feeding them while also eliminating smoking can help keep you and your baby healthy.

Rachel Nall
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