Smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products is widely known to be harmful to the health. The effect multiplies when breastfeeding since your infant is exposed to nicotine and other compounds through breast milk. About 25% of American women in the reproductive age smoke (1). Several mothers may pause smoking during pregnancy but go back to the habit after delivery.
Smoking during breastfeeding could have detrimental effects on the baby. Does that mean you should stop breastfeeding if you are unable to kick the habit? Read on to learn about the effects of smoking cigarettes while breastfeeding and ways to manage the risks.
How Does Smoking Affect Breastfeeding Mothers?
Nicotine in tobacco and other additional compounds found in cigarettes affect different parts and processes of the body, including the production of breast milk. Smoking could affect your body in the following ways (2).
- You may notice a decrease in breast milk supply since nicotine reduces serum prolactin levels. Prolactin is a hormone responsible for the stimulation of breast milk production.
- Smoking several cigarettes in a day may alter the composition of breast milk, such as a decrease in the iodine content of the milk. It could increase the risk of inadequate nourishment for the baby.
- The increase in nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in the blood may alter the flavor of breast milk.
- Mothers who smoke may feel less inclined to breastfeed, leading to early weaning and making them miss out on the various advantages of breastfeeding, including lower risk of certain types of cancers in the long run.
How Does Maternal Smoking Affect The Baby?
The various compounds, including nicotine, found in cigarettes and other tobacco products are quickly absorbed into the blood by the blood vessels in the lungs (3). The compounds eventually reach the breasts, where they find their way into breast milk.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Increased risk of infections
- Frequent vomiting and diarrhea
- Chronic irritability and fussiness
- Reduced sleep and erratic sleep-wake patterns
- Nutritional deficiencies due to change in breast milk composition
- Long-term liver problems since nicotine is metabolized by the liver
- Type-1 diabetes due to damaged pancreatic beta cells due to nicotine exposure
- Thyroid gland dysfunction and obesity in the long run
- Behavioral problems in the long run due to chronic exposure to nicotine
If you smoke near your baby, they could be exposed to second-hand smoke. Nicotine and other compounds from the cigarette smoke could settle on your clothes, causing the baby to be exposed to the residue. This is known as third-hand smoke. Exposure to second-hand smoke and third-hand smoke could increase the risk of the following problems in the baby (7) (8).
- Chronic breathing problems, such as asthma
- Upper respiratory infections, such as pneumonia
- Ear infections, including inner ear infections
- Meningococcal disease, such as meningitis
- Frequent colic, irritability, and behavioral problems
- Poor sleep and appetite
- Increased risk of cancers, including childhood cancers, such as leukemia
Besides these problems, the baby who frequently inhales second-hand smoke is at an increased risk of all the problems that a smoker may experience in the long run, such as long-term addiction, circulatory system problems, and poor immunity.
How Much Nicotine Is Transmitted Through Breast Milk?
The amount of nicotine transmitted through breast milk could vary as per several factors, such as the cigarette’s nicotine content, the number of cigarettes smoked in 24 hours, the quantity of nicotine absorbed in a smoking session, and the body’s speed of nicotine metabolism. Nevertheless, a substantial amount of nicotine passes into breast milk. Experts state that the nicotine transferred to breast milk is twice the quantity transferred to the placenta when smoking during pregnancy (1).
Research indicates that the maternal blood continues to contain nicotine even if the mother’s last smoke was 24 hours ago (9). It indicates that your breast milk will continue to contain a small amount of nicotine unless you quit smoking completely.
How To Minimize The Risk To Your Baby If You Smoke?
The best way to eliminate any smoking-related risk to your baby is by quitting smoking. You may speak to a doctor or seek help from a local help group who may guide you with ways and resources to quit smoking.
If you cannot quit smoking for now or are doing so by reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke gradually, remember not to stop breastfeeding. Experts recommend that you do not stop breastfeeding if you are smoking since breastfeeding could offer several significant benefits to the baby (10). Breast milk is also the best and only natural source of nourishment for babies younger than six months.
- Smoke after you breastfeed and never before it. The nicotine level in your breast milk is reduced by half in about two hours after smoking. The longer the gap between your smoking and breastfeeding sessions, the lesser the quantity of nicotine ingested by the baby.
- If you need to smoke right before a breastfeeding session, you may express breast milk and store it to feed it later.
- Always smoke away from the baby to prevent exposure to second-hand smoke. Preferably change all your clothes after a smoking session to prevent exposing your baby to third-hand smoke.
- Wash your hands after you smoke to prevent the baby from coming in contact with third-hand smoke.
- Choose a specific room in your home to smoke and never take the baby to that room. It can help prevent exposure to third-hand smoke and other cigarette residues. If possible and legally permitted, smoke outdoors in a dedicated area.
- Do not smoke at any place where you may take the baby. For instance, do not smoke in the car if you travel in that car with your baby.
You may also reduce your baby’s exposure to nicotine by choosing alternative methods of nicotine administration, such as nicotine gums and nicotine patches. Remember to use them after a breastfeeding session to reduce the risks for the baby further. Speak to a licensed nicotine replacement therapy practitioner who may guide you to use alternatives, such as specialized nicotine patches and e-cigarettes. The therapist can use them to reduce your nicotine dosage gradually, eliminating your nicotine dependence eventually.
Breastfeeding is one of the most satisfactory phases of a mother’s life. The lactating mother’s lifestyle could directly impact the baby’s health. Remember to introspect and reconsider your choices. Breastfeeding is the best time to quit smoking if you were unable to do so before. The satisfaction of quitting smoking and realizing that you safeguarded your baby’s health as a mother is addictive enough to possibly never think of smoking again.
2. Tobacco and E-Cigarettes; CDC
3. Neal L. Benowitz, Janne Hukkanen, and Peyton Jacob,Nicotine Chemistry, Metabolism, Kinetics and BiomarkersU.S. National Library of Medicine
4.Candida Canicali Primo et al., Effects of maternal nicotine on breastfeeding infants;U.S. National Library of Medicine
5. Breastfeeding and smoking;NHS UK
6. P.C. Lisboa et al., Effects of maternal nicotine exposure on thyroid hormone metabolism and function in adult rat progeny; Journal of Endocrinology
7. Breastfeeding & cigarette smoke;The Royal Women’s Hospital
8. Second-hand smoke and third-hand smoke: effects on children; Raising Children Network
9. Julie A. Mennella, Lauren M. Yourshaw, and Lindsay K. Morgan,Breastfeeding and Smoking: Short-term Effects on Infant Feeding and Sleep; U.S. National Library of Medicine
10. Smoking & Breastfeeding;La Leche League GB
11. Smoking & Your Baby;National Institutes of Health
12. Breastfeeding and smoking;Australian Breastfeeding Association