Smoking has proved to affect the health of a growing baby during pregnancy and has its drawbacks for a breastfeeding mother too. Smoking while breastfeeding decreases the mother’s milk supply. The nicotine and other toxins that are passed via breast milk have a bearing on the child. Children who are breastfed by mothers who smoke have increased instances of nausea, restlessness and fussiness. Smoking during pregnancy and breastfeeding is definitely harmful and comes with its fair share of risks.
Should Breastfeeding Mothers Smoke?
It goes without saying that a breastfeeding mother should ideally not smoke. However, if a mother cannot stop smoking, that is no alibi to stop breastfeeding. The amount of nicotine transferred into breast milk is more than double than what is transferred through the placenta during pregnancy. Yet there is strong evidence that breastmilk outweighs the negative effects of nicotine and in fact, provides protection and reduces the incidence of respiratory illnesses in infants. Breastfeeding provides immunity to counteract the effects of smoking. Unarguably, it is better if mothers kick the habit completely, however, those who do not intend to, must continue to feed. It is better to smoke and breastfeed than smoke and only formula feed. Studies also indicate that women who smoke while breastfeeding have a decreased supply of milk and the composition of the milk is also altered. In addition, smoking is known to cause the disturbance in sleep patterns which have a bearing on the sleep patterns of babies who are breastfed by smoking mothers.
What Happens If You Smoke during Breastfeeding?
There are some proven risks of smoking while breastfeeding as listed below.
Effects on Baby
- Infants who are exposed to cigarette smoke are more susceptible to pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, sinus infections, eye irritation and infections and croup.
- Colic occurs often in infants who have parents who smoke. It is not just the nicotine transferred into the mother’s milk that affects the baby, but the passive smoke around also acts as an irritant.
- Increased smoking levels by breastfeeding mothers cause gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or cramps in the abdomen.
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a common occurrence, and there is a seven times greater chance of infant death if the parents smoke.
- Frequent visits to the doctor especially due to respiratory complaints or allergy related illnesses.
- Passive smoke is equally harmful as it lowers blood levels of HDL in children exposed to it. HDL is the good cholesterol that helps to protect against coronary artery disease.
- Smoking has been indicated as a risk factor for childhood obesity and thyroid dysfunction.
- Chances of children contracting lung cancer are double in those kids who grow up in a home where both parents smoke.
Effects on Breastfeeding
- Babies of mothers who smoke, tend to wean away from breastfeeding early.
- Smoking while breastfeeding reduces production of milk.
- Nicotine reduces the “let-down” reflex, which causes the breasts to discharge milk rapidly leading to poor nursing by the baby.
- Production of prolactin, the hormone signalling the breasts to produce more milk is reduced in nursing mothers who smoke.
- Smoking mothers have less iodine in their breastmilk which increases the chances of a thyroid malfunction in the baby.
These smoking while breastfeeding facts don’t prove that it is harmful as there is not enough research and evidence available. However, given that breast milk is an excellent nutritional choice, it is worthwhile to eliminate smoking while feeding to reduce any exposure to potential risks.
Tips to Minimize Risk to Your Baby if You Smoke
A new mother who is breastfeeding could resort to smoking as little as possible or after breastfeeding to minimise nicotine exposure to the baby. There are a few tips that would definitely help.
- Quit completely.
- Reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke. The risk is high if you smoke over 20 a day.
- Avoid smoking before or during breastfeeding.
- Smoke after feeding which cuts down the nicotine level in your milk. Increase the gap between smoking and nursing as it takes approximately 1.5 hours for half the nicotine to be eliminated from your body.
- Never smoke in the same room as your baby and stay as far as possible. Also, ensure that no one else smokes around your baby.
What is E-cigarettes?
Electronic or e-cigarettes are no safer than regular cigarettes. There could be some health advantages to it, but they deliver the same levels of nicotine to the smoker. Given the same amount of risk involved, it can be concluded that they are in no way a better option for nursing mothers.
How to Quit Smoking?
Some mothers want to adopt the occasional smoking and breastfeeding pattern rather than quit it altogether. It is better to smoke after nursing and ensure that there is a long gap between smoking and nursing. Smoking just before nursing inhibits let-down and could be fatal for the baby. For those who wish to quit, cessation aids in the form of nicotine patches, gum and prescribed medicines offer a defence against cravings. Nicotine patches giving off a steady, low amount of nicotine are preferred to nicotine gums which create higher fluctuation in nicotine levels.
Breastfeeding is a healthy option for the baby, and it is best to discontinue smoking when breastfeeding and start smoking after your baby has weaned completely if you still have the urge to smoke.