Becoming a mother comes with a lot of change and sometimes we are eager to hold on to little parts of us from our past. For many women, smoking is one of those habits that is hard to give up. Even if you knew about the risks of smoking while pregnant, such as low birth weight, you may be tempted to light up again after your child’s birth. Before you pick up a pack of cigarette, let’s explore the potential effects of breastfeeding and smoking.
First, let’s note that if you choose to breastfeed while smoking you are not a bad mother, just a mother with an addiction to nicotine. Nicotine is a powerful drug, that overtime causes people to develop a physical dependency. Coming out from under the control of this drug is difficult, but possible. This, together with drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, has been the common debate among mothers for the longest time.
What Does Science Say: Smoking and Breastfeeding Facts
If you previously quit smoking during your pregnancy, you are more likely to abstain from smoking postpartum if you breastfeed your child. Using a bottle and formula for some women “releases” them from the bodily attachment to their infant, so smoking seems like a safe and reasonable thing. If you choose to breastfeed while smoking you will expose yourself and your child to many risks.
Although research has found that the quantity or intake of milk is not often altered by the use of nicotine by a breastfeeding mother, the breast milk quality is substantially impacted.
Nicotine is present in your blood if you smoke and is passed along to your baby through your milk. Nicotine has many effects on your baby’s body, just as it does yours. Think about some of the symptoms you experience when smoking – they are not all pleasant. Ultimately the risks outweigh the breastfeeding benefits for you as a mom and for your baby:
If you smoke, you have an increased risk of:
- Lung cancer
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)
- Oral cancer
- Low bone density
If you continue smoking while breastfeeding, your infant has an increased risk of
- Respiratory problems, such as asthma and bronchitis
- Ear and sinus infections
- Irregular sleep patterns
Decrease in breast milk production
It has been shown that smoking decreases milk production and let-down leading to earlier weaning. Thus, your breastfeeding relationship may also be at risk.. The more cigarette you smoke, the more likely you are to end your breastfeeding relationship earlier. Mothers who smoke through their pregnancy and afterward are 2 times more likely to quit breastfeeding by 10 weeks.
Six months of exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the full benefits of breastmilk and nutrition of your child, so if you hope to meet that goal you should decrease the number of cigarettes you smoke. We also recommend you check out our post on how to increase breast milk production.
There is one more thing to consider. Despite the negative effects we have discussed above, even smoking mothers are encouraged to breastfeed. This is especially so, if the baby will be exposed to environmental smoke – smoke in the your home or car. This also means that if you partner or family members smoke, it is beneficial for you to breastfeed. Breastmilk has been shown to decrease the negative impact of smoke on your infants lungs and lessens the likelihood of developing asthma and other respiratory issues.
What About Breastfeeding and Smoking Marijuana?
In most cultures, breastfeeding and smoking weed are a taboo combination. Just like cigarette contain nicotine and other carcinogens, marijuana contains a substance called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is an addictive, psychoactive drug that could potentially be harmful to you and your baby. Limited research is available on this subject, so medical providers suggest that mother’s discontinue marijuana use during pregnancy and lactation.
The biggest concern with a mother breastfeeding while consuming THC through marijuana, is that her judgement may be impaired. Caring for a child is a difficult task, especially if you are experiencing side effects of marijuana use. Such side effects include dizziness, lack of motivation, and sleeping difficulties. If you continue the use of weed during the breastfeeding relationship between mother and child, please consider the safety of your child. Make a plan for where he or she will be and with whom will you are intoxicated.
What Can I Do to Change my Smoking Habits?
If you decide to limit or eliminate smoking from your daily life, you will experience challenges. However, a simple reduction in the number of cigarette smoked per day can decrease the effects of nicotine and other chemicals on your baby’s health. Even taking the step to smoke immediately after breastfeeding instead of before will limit the amount of nicotine your baby receives through your milk.
Choosing to eliminate smoking from your habits is a choice that only you can make, but there are a great number of benefits to both your health and your babies. Although it may seem like a daunting task, there great deal of resources online to assist you. Websites such as women.smokefree.gov and quitnow.gov.au provide educational materials, text messages, live helplines, and apps to aid you in your smoking cessation journey.
Nicotine patches are a commonly used by those who wish to quit smoking. Research into breastfeeding while smoking versus breastfeeding while using a nicotine patch determined that similar amount of nicotine enter the baby’s system through the mother’s milk. Because of the decreased exposure to cigarette smoke, nicotine patches are considered a safe option for smoking mothers. It is important that you discuss your smoking cessation plan with your healthcare provider and even a lactation consultant for more information about the plan’s impact on your baby’s health.
Bottom Line: Is Smoking While Breastfeeding Safe?
Ultimately, the science tells us that smoking and breastfeeding are not compatible. The risk of death from SIDS and respiratory problems is too great. In addition, side effects from smoking while breastfeeding can make parenting your child more difficult – such as shorten sleep cycles and colic.
Added to all of this is a decreased lifespan for the mom, the smoker – and every mother wants as many years with their children as they can get.