Thanks to the addictive properties of nicotine, smoking is a common–albeit unhealthy–habit. New moms might pick up cigarettes again after giving birth, especially if smoking provides them much-needed stress relief. But will smoking while breastfeeding harm the baby, and does nicotine leach into breast milk? We've spoken with a lactation consultant to break down the answers.
Risks of Smoking While Breastfeeding
"Babies born to mothers who smoke are at greater risk for pneumonia, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and acute ear infections," says Carol Anderson, R.N., a lactation consultant at Rose Medical Center in Denver. There's also an increased chance of developing colic, eye irritation, croup, and abdominal issues. What's more, smoking has been linked to lower milk supply, early weaning, and let-down issues – all of which make breastfeeding more of a hassle than it needs to be.
As it turns out, however, nursing your baby actually protects him from many of these dangers. Research shows that formula-fed infants have a much higher incidence of these problems (like allergies and respiratory illness) then breastfed babies, since breast milk counteracts nicotine's negative effects. Breast milk also has a host of other health benefits, like protection against allergies, eczema, and viruses. So while smoking and breastfeeding isn't ideal, it's usually better to smoke and nurse than to bottle feed.
Nicotine and Breast Milk
Many mothers may wonder if nicotine leaches into breast milk, and how long nicotine stays in your system. "Nicotine levels are highest just after you smoke a cigarette, so it's best to wait an hour and a half to three hours after a smoke to breastfeed," Anderson says. Plan to smoke directly after breastfeeding in order to adhere to this schedule. Also keep in mind that infants tend to eat very often, especially in the first months, so it's smart to have pumped nicotine-free breast milk at the ready.
Should You Quit Smoking Cigarettes While Breastfeeding?
Although you can still raise a healthy baby while smoking cigarettes and breastfeeding, it's still best to quit. This greatly decreases your baby's risk of complications. "At the very least, moms need to reduce the number of cigarettes as much as possible," Anderson says, adding that smoking cessation products – particularly nicotine patches – are always preferable to smoking. "The patch delivers a lower and less variable level of nicotine than, say, nicotine gum," she says. If you choose a 21 mg patch, you will have significantly more nicotine in your breast milk than if you chose a 7 to 14 mg patch.
If you absolutely can't quit smoking, never light up around your infant, and make your home and car smoke-free environments. "You should also wear a jacket or shirt when smoking and leave it outside to reduce exposing your infant to the residue," Anderson says. Also, a baby should never share a bed with a smoker; it increases her risk of SIDS.