Explaining the Risks of Smoking While Breastfeeding
Most women are aware that smoking while pregnant can have negative implications for developing babies. Pregnant women are urged to quit smoking, as tobacco use has been linked to pre-term labor and underweight infants, among other developmental problems. This is due primarily to the reduction in oxygen passed through a pregnant smoker’s bloodstream.
Less oxygen for mom means less oxygen for a baby.
What some women do not know, however, is that the risks of smoking extend to breastfeeding as well. While most breastfeeding experts agree that breastfeeding is better for baby than commercial infant formulas, there are risks you take if smoking is continued during the breastfeeding relationship.
Effects of Smoking on Milk Supply
Studies have shown that smoking reduces the production of prolactin in nursing mothers. This is the hormone which signals the breasts to make more milk. Tobacco may also reduce the “let down” reflex, which causes the breasts to eject milk more rapidly. This may cause baby to nurse more restlessly if he doesn’t feel he is getting milk fast enough. A poorly nursing baby will lower milk supply even further, since breast milk is produced on a supply and demand system.
While many mothers will be able to produce enough to nourish their babies, even while smoking, for those already prone to supply issues, the addition to tobacco can be detrimental.
Effects of Nicotine on Nursing Infants
According to La Leche League, women who smoke up to 20 cigarettes per day have not been shown to cause serious harm to their babies through breastfeeding. In fact, breast milk itself seems to offer some protection from smoking’s effects to the infant, as babies who were breastfed by smokers still had lower rates of respiratory illness than babies who were formula fed according to Massachusetts Women’s Mental Health. However, the nicotine in cigarettes may cause side effects in some infants, especially those who are underweight or particularly sensitive to stimulants. Nausea, restlessness, crying, and general fussiness are not uncommon. Symptoms may subside over time, but not always.
La Leche League states that women who smoke more than 20 cigarettes per day may cause more serious side effects, and it increases the risk of side effects overall. Babies of heavy smokers may experience abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and nausea. Diarrhea is particularly dangerous for young babies.
The Dangers of Second-Hand Smoke
Perhaps the most prominent risk of smoking while breastfeeding isn’t the nicotine passing through milk, but the risk of second-hand smoke exposure to babies. It is important to never smoke around baby, however, this won’t reduce all risks. Third-hand smoke, or smoke residue left behind after someone smokes, can still result in complications for infants. For instance, studies have shown that babies whose parents smoke are at an increased risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
While showering and changing clothes after each cigarette will help reduce this risk, the only way to fully remove the risk of infant health issues related to second or third-hand smoke is to quit.
Hope for Quitting
Luckily, there are numerous ways to quit smoking. Cessation aids are available to reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms and help smokers quit more easily. Common aids include nicotine patches, gum and prescription medications. If that isn’t enough, sometimes that little gift is enough to help you through.
For more motivation to quit smoking once and for all, visit The Real Cost of Smoking.
Read more about the effects cigarette smoke has on the human body at The Effects of Smoking.