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Smoking and Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding women should not smoke cigarettes as nicotine can cause various side effects and health problems in infants. It is important to give up smoking when nursing a child as the nicotine mixes with the milk due to smoking. This milk can cause several adverse effects on the child. Those who are unable to quit smoking before, during and after pregnancy should at least cut down the number of cigarettes smoked in a day.

In many cases, women give up smoking during pregnancy and then start smoking again once the baby is born. Many mothers believe that smoking while breastfeeding does not harm the baby unless they are directly exposed to secondhand smoke. But, the nicotine delivered to the newborn’s body can be harmful. Although, not much research has been done to find out the severity of the long and short-term effects of nicotine in breast milk, it has been proved that smoking while breastfeeding is more dangerous than smoking during pregnancy.

Should Women Breastfeed While Continuing To Smoke?

It is advisable to stop smoking altogether when breastfeeding. However, women who are unable to give up smoking entirely should still breastfeed their babies. Breastfeeding provides the infants with immunities and help them to fight numerous diseases. So, it is never a better option to avoid breastfeeding because of smoking. If a mother is unable or unwilling to give up smoking entirely while breastfeeding, she should cut down the number of cigarettes smoked in a day. Smoking less than 20 cigarettes is less harmful for the mother and her child than smoking over 20 or over 30 cigarettes.

Smoking and Breastfeeding vs. Formula

A woman should breastfeed her child even if she cannot quit smoking, because there are too many benefits of breastfeeding to be outweighed by the disadvantages of nicotine. One should never go for formula feeding instead of breastfeeding due to smoking. Researches show that smoking during breastfeeding transfers twice the amount of nicotine into breast milk as the amount delivered through the placenta when a woman smokes during pregnancy. However, there are strong evidences that show breast milk itself to provide protection against the nicotine. According to several studies, the occurrence of various respiratory diseases among babies breastfed by smoking mothers was lower compared to formula fed children. So, it is a proved fact that breastfed children are more immune to various diseases compared to formula fed children.

Effects of Breastfeeding While Smoking

The nicotine in the breast milk can cause the following health effects in infants:

  • Cigarette smoke increase the risks of various disorders including asthma, pneumonia, ear infections, eye irritation, bronchitis, sinus infections and croup in infants and children.
  • Babies whose mothers smoke during breastfeeding are more likely to have colic. It has been proved that the secondhand smoke in the air affects the children besides the nicotine which is transferred into their bodies along with their mother’s milk.
  • Heavy tobacco smoking by breastfeeding women has been proved to make the children more ill-tempered than those with nonsmoking mothers.
  • Breastfeeding women who smoke heavily are likely to cause their babies suffer from various disorders including vomiting, abdominal cramps, nausea and diarrhea.
  • Babies having smoking mothers are seven times more at risk of dying from SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
  • Children whose mothers smoke tobacco during breastfeeding needs to visit the doctor 2 to 3 times more compared to those whose parents do not smoke, usually from allergy-related illnesses and respiratory infections.

How to Minimize the Harmful Effects of Smoking When Breastfeeding

Giving up smoking entirely is the best way to avoid the bad effects of smoking on the infant and the mother herself. A woman can use professional help for quitting smoking if unable to do it alone. Going cold turkey is the best method to stop smoking during this time. However, if it is too difficult to stop smoking entirely, one should still continue breastfeeding her baby as it protects the infant from different conditions such as colic, cold and SIDS. Here are some tips that can help to reduce the ill effects of smoking on the breastfed baby.

Smoking Lesser Number of Cigarettes: It helps to cut down the number of cigarettes smoked per day to the minimum. Heavy smoking when breastfeeding causes more serious health problems in the breastfed baby.

Smoking outside the House: The mother should not smoke inside the house as the secondhand smoke remains inside and affects the health of the baby.

Refraining from Smoking until a Breastfeeding Session is Over: The harmful chemicals in the breast milk reduce in amount 1 hour after smoking. These chemicals are most harmful immediately after smoking. So, one should not breastfeed her child immediately after smoking a cigarette.

Some women have the misconception that a smoking woman should not breastfeed her baby unless she gives up smoking entirely. However, it is not true. One should breastfeed her child even if unable to stop smoking as breast milk helps to increase the immunity of the infant against various serious health conditions. A woman should never deprive her child of breast milk as it may cause more serious health problems in the baby compared to the risks of smoking while breastfeeding.

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