What Are The Implications Of Smoking While Breastfeeding?

Many women are aware of the adverse health implications of smoking when pregnant and most manage successfully to quit smoking altogether during this time. In an ideal world they would never smoke again and enjoy the extra health benefits for themselves for the rest of their lives. However, smoking is highly addictive and it is tempting after the stress of labour to ‘light up’ and use smoking to alleviate anxiety. This article relates to tobacco smoke only and does not replace individual medical advice but is for information purposes only.

Most women are aware of the significant health benefits for both themselves and their newborn baby but what are the implications of breastfeeding if you smoke?

Firstly, and most obviously, you shouldn’t put your newborn child (or any child for that matter) in an environment whereby they are forced to inhale second hand smoke. The dangers of this are well documented elsewhere and need not be gone over. Ideally you should make your home non-smoking for as long as possible and smoke outside but if this isn’t possible you should allocate a room for smoking which is shut off from the rest of your home. Your newborn baby should not be taken into this room.

So what about chemicals from tobacco and your breast milk? The most commonly known chemical is nicotine and this is changed into cotinine by the body. The levels of cotinine in a breastfed babies have been found to be 10 times higher than those found in formula fed babies of mothers who smoke. This shows that the chemical is passed on through breast milk.

Breastfeeding is, except for certain medical reasons, by far the best choice of food for your baby, especially early on in your newborn baby’s life. It helps both mother and baby for a large number of medical and health reasons and because of this it is widely considered that you should breastfeed even if you do smoke.

There are some considerations that you should observe if you are smoking and breastfeeding though. It has been found that breast milk tastes most like cigarettes around 30-60 minutes after smoking and just after smoking is when you will have the most amount of nicotine in your bloodstream and breast milk. You should therefore smoke just after feeding your baby to minimise both of these effects.

Smoking as few cigarettes as possible is obviously more preferable and it has been shown that using nicotine replacement products is better than smoking. Under no circumstances should you smoke while using nicotine replacement products as the levels of nicotine would possibly become dangerously high.

There are some interesting findings related to smoking and breastfeeding that should be addressed to make this article complete. Research has shown that mothers who smoke and breastfeed continue with breastfeeding for a shorter period of time on average than those who don’t. It has also been found that smoking can reduce the amount of milk produced by the mother.

The reduced breast milk production and knowledge of nicotine being passed to the baby may cause a mother to believe that her milk is not good enough for her child. This may be the reason that mothers who smoke choose not to breastfeed at all or breastfeed for a shorter time.

In summary breastfeeding offers so many health benefits that women who smoke should be encouraged to breastfeed and to continue to do so until their child is a normal weaning age.

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