Is It Safe to Smoke While Breastfeeding?
Many new mothers have seemingly endless questions about what is safe and unsafe for their new baby. Ultimately, a mom always wants whatever is best for her little bundle of joy, and sometimes that means sacrificing certain pleasures of life – at least for a while.
For some, that can be fewer girls’ nights out, not sleeping through the night (for solid several months, at that), cutting down to one glass of wine (and only having it on occasion) or maybe it’s just less “me” time.
One thing that a lot of new moms have in common is choosing to breastfeed. It is common knowledge that breastfeeding is a great way to nourish a baby – but if you’re not sure exactly why, here’s the rundown.
- Breastfeeding is incredibly beneficial to newborn child development.
- While it is possible to smoke while breastfeeding, it is not ideal. Nicotine can transfer to the baby through breast milk.
- Nicotine can reduce breast milk production and alter the properties of breastmilk.
- Nicotine in the baby’s system, along with exposure to secondhand smoke, put the baby at an increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- E-Cigarettes are generally not considered a good alternative.
Why is Breastfeeding Important?
Breastfeeding is known for its benefits in a newborn child’s growth and development. A mother’s breast milk is the baby’s perfect food, delivering the baby’s essential nutrients in the ideal proportions and at every meal, so that baby can have everything it needs to grow healthy and strong. Breastmilk plays a vital role in the formation of the immune system, and as a result, breastfed babies have a lower incidence of illness, allergies, infections, cancer, and diabetes. Breastfed infants tend to be significantly healthier than babies that are frequently fed formula, and formula-fed babies tend to have higher chances of developing gastrointestinal issues, ear infections, and all types of allergies.
It is then easy to see why a mom would want to breastfeed (given she has no health implications that prevent her from doing so)!
But what about moms who smoke? Can they breastfeed? Is it safe?
In short, yes – moms can physically breastfeed and smoke. But is it safe? Not exactly. Breastfeeding protects the baby from some of the effects of second-hand smoke, so if a mother feels that she can’t cut down, it is always preferable that she continues to breastfeed if she must smoke rather than opting to formula-feed. However, if possible, it is always optimal for a mother to cut down or quit altogether for her own health as well as her baby’s.
While some sources state that there are ways around the situation (such as pumping and dumping or allowing time for the nicotine to reduce from the mother’s system before breastfeeding), neither are ideal. The health risks are still there, and smoking does affect the composition of breastmilk which reduces its protective properties.
Additionally, nicotine has been shown to reduce prolactin, which is a luteotropic hormone that is responsible for milk production. When prolactin levels go down, and milk production subsequently drops, the “ideal options” – to pump and dump or smoke after breastfeeding and wait a few hours – become less feasible.
Furthermore, smoking is known to have several negative effects on breast milk – it is linked to a decrease in the protective properties of breastmilk, alterations in infant behavior and response to breastfeeding, and may affect infant development. These are all major concerns, especially if a mother intends to breastfeed to give her baby the very best start.
Cigarettes have been known to contain several dangerous chemicals, such as cyanide, arsenic, lead, and formaldehyde – all known to be substances that pose a risk to health. Infants and children are affected by these chemicals more than adults, so it is always a good measure to minimize risks by avoiding unnecessary exposure to heavy metals and toxins.
Additionally, smoking does cause nicotine to pass through to the baby in the breast milk, which can increase symptoms of colic, digestive distress, and poor sleep patterns as well as an increase in infant mortality and cardiovascular decline.
Second-hand smoke is another major issue for infants with parents who smoke, as well as for infants who are frequently exposed to second-hand smoke.
Second-hand smoke is known for causing a plethora of adverse effects on health, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Lung Cancer
- SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) describes SIDS as,
“Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexplained, unexpected death of an infant in the first year of life. SIDS is the leading cause of death in otherwise healthy infants. Secondhand smoke increases the risk for SIDS”
And goes on to explain that some of the major risk factors for SIDS are:
- Smoking during pregnancy
- Infant exposure to second-hand smoke
- Second-hand smoke may alter neurological function, later interfering with the infant’s breathing patterns
- In deaths resulting from SIDS, infants have been shown to have higher nicotine concentrations in their lungs as well as heightened cotinine levels. Cotinine is a biological indicator of exposure to second-hand smoke.
What about E-Cigarettes?
Unfortunately, whether a mother should opt to use a traditional cigarette or an e-cigarette, the results are the same – compromised nutrition for baby. Both contain nicotine, and both can be responsible for altering the nutrients that the infant receives from breastfeeding.
How to Quit Smoking
For pregnant or nursing mothers hoping to quit the habit, a good first step is to cut down.
With the goal to cut down in place, you may begin to use alternatives such as Nicotine Gum or Lozenges. Treat them as you would a cigarette – taking them just after breastfeeding and allowing 3-4 hours for the nicotine levels to fall before breastfeeding again.
Transdermal patches are also a viable option, that can be used throughout the day and potentially taken off at night. They leach nicotine into breast milk, though it would be less than that of a cigarette. The usage of transdermal patches can also be tapered down slowly.
All in all, smoking is not ideal during breastfeeding. If you are having trouble cutting the habit, consider asking your doctor or child’s pediatrician for help if you wish to continue to breastfeed.