Smoking While Breastfeeding: Explaining the Risks

smoking and breastfeeding
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It is known that pregnant women should not smoke or be using any nicotine at all; however, there is not much told to women about smoking after they deliver their baby. It is highly recommended for mothers to breastfeed their infants, but what does that mean for women who smoke? How long does nicotine stay in breastmilk? Just how dangerous is it to partake in smoking while breastfeeding and what are the health risks to the baby?

Table of contents

Does smoking affect breastmilk?
Effect of nicotine on breastmilk
Minimizing health risks
Smoking while breastfeeding: Is it worth it?


Smoking Cigarettes and Breastfeeding

Moms who smoke while breastfeeding have been shown to produce less milk than mothers who don’t use cigarettes. When breastfeeding, the body produces a hormone that signals for the breasts to produce more milk and eject it rapidly. Nicotine from smoking interferes with the production of that hormone, which can lead to the mother not being able to produce enough milk for the infant. When the child does not get enough milk, it can affect their development and make them exhibit behaviors the lead to less efficient feeding and earlier weaning.

Babies can also be affected by secondhand smoke if moms are using cigarettes around their infant. Secondhand smoke effects happen when the baby inhales smoke around them, which is most likely to occur if their mother is smoking around them. Secondhand smoke is most dangerous to the baby, as inhalation causes risk of breathing issues and can increase the baby’s risk of developing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Effect of Nicotine on Breastmilk

Even though the amount of nicotine in the breast milk of smoking mothers in nearly twice the amount of nicotine in a placenta of a smoking mother, it is regarded as less dangerous to use cigarettes while breastfeeding than while pregnant. This is because feeding the baby breast milk provides natural health protection for the baby. Studies have shown that breastfed babies exposed to nicotine are less likely to get respiratory illnesses than formula-fed babies.

While the risk of respiratory illnesses was found to be less, nicotine and cigarette smoke still has effects on infants. It changes the composition of breast milk, which impacts how much nutrition babies receive from their mother’s milk. Long lasting nausea, fussiness, restlessness, and excessive crying are all symptoms of infant nicotine consumption and can be avoided by not smoking while breastfeeding. In general, smoking and breastfeeding are not the healthiest combination for the baby and could lead to future issues.

Smoking and Breastfeeding: How to Minimize Health Risks

Smoking and breastfeeding: health risks
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The only way to completely minimize all risk to the baby is to quit smoking. It is the only way to guarantee the baby’s health will not be negatively affected. For some moms who smoke, quitting is not an option, and they should make every effort to keep their baby as safe as possible. One way to minimize the risks of smoking while breastfeeding is to have a cigarette immediately after feeding the baby. The amount of nicotine in breastmilk is cut in half after approximately two hours. Having a cigarette right after breastfeeding ensures that the baby will not have to eat again for a little bit, which gives the body as much time as possible to remove nicotine and other toxins from the milk.

Moms can also make sure they do not smoke in front of the baby or in places the baby spends a lot of time. Changing clothing and washing hands are other things moms can do to protect their baby from cigarette smoke and nicotine consumption.

Is Smoking While Breastfeeding Worth It?

When it comes down to it, the only way to keep the baby totally safe is to quit smoking. However, quitting smoking is not always an option for some moms. Of course, it is recommended not to smoke while breastfeeding, however, if that is not possible, it is better to breastfeed than not to breastfeed. The benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the effects of smoking while breastfeeding. Make sure to take precaution when smoking to ensure the baby does not take in any secondhand smoke. Also, ensure to give the body enough time to process the cigarette and remove chemicals from the milk before feeding the baby again.

If a breastfeeding mother needs help quitting smoking, there are many different types of cessation aids available. Aids like Nicotine patches, medications, and nicotine gum can help curb nicotine withdrawal symptoms and make quitting smoking easier. Consult with a doctor before using any of these methods to make sure they are safe to use while breastfeeding.

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.

Published: August 4, 2015 Updated: February 21, 2019

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