No … you should not smoke while breastfeeding. The key words being “should not,” however notice it does not read “cannot.” Yet this by no means is an invitation to pick up a cigarette, as it can have negative health issues for both you and your baby. Babies are exposed to nicotine through breast milk and smoke in everything around them. Ideally, you were able to quit once becoming pregnant, or perhaps you picked it back up after birth. Regardless, if you choose to continue smoking, as it is understandably a difficult habit to break, there are a number of things to be aware of.
Anything that you take into your body is generally passed onto your baby. With nicotine, more than twice the amount is passed to your baby through breast milk than while pregnant through the placenta. Fortunately nicotine breaks down relatively fast in your breast milk and it is even believed that breast milk provides some protection for your baby against nicotine. Nicotine is no longer listed as a drug that is contraindicated while breast feeding. Studies have shown that babies that are breastfed by smoking mothers have report less respiratory illness than babies that are formula fed by smoking mothers. This leaves it to appear that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks of nicotine exposure. Even cutting back on how many cigarettes you smoke can help to protect your baby and prevent the amount of nicotine passed on.
Since nicotine breaks down soon after consuming, if enough times passes between smoking and your baby’s next feeding it is possible the nicotine may no longer be in your breast milk. Being aware of the timing of baby’s feeds and when you decide to smoke can help to reduce or eliminate nicotine being passed to your baby. Now that being said, babies like to throw us for a loop here and there, with growth spurts, comfort nursing or a variety of other reasons they may want to nurse. They can be unpredictable and thus it is likely that even with an attempt to try to time smoking and nursing appropriately, that baby will at some point receive some amount of nicotine in your milk.
Smoking just five cigarettes a day can have a number of negative effects on breast feeding. One of the most common issues is low milk supply. Low milk supply can be devastating to mothers and also cause a lack of motivation to continue breastfeeding. The rush felt from the cigarette can also make it difficult for a mother to relax which is a key component in breastfeeding and when let downs occur. Smoking not only decreases the hormones that produce breast milk, it also can change the composition of your milk. It is also likely that the taste of your breast milk is altered if you’ve continued or begun smoking again. If this change occurs, the altered taste is very noticeable to your baby who may then refuse to nurse. If your baby is refusing to nurse it may bring about a variety of issues from malnourishment, to low supply, mastitis and so on.
Babies tend to exhibit increased levels of fussiness, restlessness and crying (colic) if nursed by a mother who smokes. This can feed the cycle, of crying causing moms stress who smokes more which bothers baby more which causes more fussiness … Well, you get the picture. Babies also tend to sleep shortened lengths of time if exposed to nicotine through breast milk. These issues tend to promote early weaning which can be even worse for a baby that will be continually exposed to smoking, and left without the protection breast milk does provide. As mentioned above, the antibodies in your milk help to protect your baby from respiratory problems and infections that smoking can expose them to. So even if you are not the smoker, if someone that is around them smokes it is even more important for you to continue breastfeeding. Also, if you notice baby having loose stool or a grayish tint to his skin it is important to have him checked by his pediatrician to rule out nicotine poisoning or related issues.
Now we haven’t even begun to discuss the consequences 2nd and even 3rd hand smoke can cause for you and your baby. Breast milk, in all its glory, is powerless against these forms of toxins. When babies are exposed to 2nd hand smoke, it can weaken their lungs, make them more likely to have illness and infections and doubles the risk of SIDS. Even when lighting up in another room, the smoke can be detected throughout the entire house within minutes. 3rd hand smoke refers to the toxic matter left behind even after you’ve stopped smoking, and is found in everything from your hair to household dust. Smoke clings to the walls, carpets, furniture and releases chemicals into the air continuously increasing your baby‘s level of exposure for months after smoking has stopped. Carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) linger and stay present on surfaces and people that can come into direct contact with your child putting him at risk.
If you find yourself concerned about your baby’s health, the best thing you can do is quit smoking for good and encourage those around you to do the same. Do it for you, for your health and for the safety and nourishment of your baby. Any of the negative consequences mentioned above, among countless others are reason enough to quit today. You are now providing your child with the absolute most nutritious thing that may ever enter their bodies, so let us do all that we can to keep it as just that!