How Smoking While Breastfeeding Affects Your Baby

Many mothers quit smoking when they find out they are pregnant. An even higher number do not. While encouraged to quit, mothers continue smoking throughout pregnancy and after the baby is born. They continue while breastfeeding. Can smoking be harmful when you're breastfeeding?

Key takeaways:
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    The harmful chemicals found in tobacco products are taken into the mother’s system and passed through the breast milk to the baby.
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    Nicotine and other harmful chemicals found in tobacco products make maternal smoking a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
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    Smoking decreases fats, calories, and protein in breast milk.
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    Mothers who smoke have a greater chance of miscarriage or stillbirth.
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    Quitting is the best, healthiest option.

Can smoking directly affect your infant?

Using tobacco products or e-cigarettes can have a direct effect on your baby. This includes cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco, and e-cigarettes. The harmful chemicals found in these products are taken into the mother’s system and passed through the breast milk to your baby. The chemicals also pass to the baby through secondhand smoke.

Nicotine and other harmful chemicals found in tobacco products make maternal smoking a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Babies exposed to smoking are also much more likely to have illnesses and health problems like:

It has also been noted that some babies experience nausea and diarrhea related to the nicotine in breast milk.

How does smoking impact breastfeeding?

Smoking can impact breastfeeding by decreasing the mother’s milk supply. Studies show that smoking decreases fats, calories, and protein in breast milk as well. This can lower the nutritional value and make it less fortifying for your baby. It may also decrease the immune properties breast milk is known for.

As a result, babies of mothers who smoke tend to have low weight and trouble gaining weight. Decreased fats and nutrients in breast milk can prevent babies from gaining weight or storing fats.

Smoking may also lead to early weaning. Research has shown that many mothers who continue to smoke stop breastfeeding earlier than other mothers. The reason is unclear. It could be out of concern for their baby’s safety. Mothers who smoke may also become discouraged more easily and quit sooner, even though breastfeeding longer would be best.

Risks of smoking during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Smoking while pregnant or breastfeeding can lead to risks for both you and your baby. Mothers who smoke have a greater chance of miscarriage or stillbirth than those who do not. They may also experience complications like the placenta separating from the uterus, infection, or preterm labor.

Smoking also puts your baby at risk of:

  • Low oxygen supply
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Heart problems
  • Lung problems
  • Learning issues
  • Behavior problems
  • Birth defects like cleft palate, cleft lip, heart defect, or other defects

E-cigarettes are not safer

E-cigarettes and vaping devices are not safer than traditional tobacco products. There is less information and fewer studies available about the long-term effects of these products on people in general. Even less is known about the use of e-cigarettes by mothers and its effects on infant health.

The chemicals in these products are known to be harmful, including nicotine and other substances. Nicotine passes through breast milk regardless of which form is used.

Secondhand smoke is risky

Secondhand smoke is still dangerous to babies and children who are forced to breathe it. Smoking in your home or car around your children can damage their lungs which are still developing. This can lead to several illnesses.

Smoking outside or away from your children is also a risk. The chemicals in smoke stick to your skin and clothing, and your baby can breathe them in. This is referred to as thirdhand smoke. It is left on furniture, walls, car seats, hair, clothing, or anything it touches. Your baby or child then breathes in the toxins that are given off.

Long-term concerns

Secondhand smoke can cause long-term problems as well. Children who are exposed are at risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and poorly developed lungs because the lungs are still growing.

There are also concerns that exposure to smoking can cause mental health and learning difficulties in children as they grow.

The best outcome for your baby is not smoking while breastfeeding and making sure no one smokes near your baby. Quitting is the best, healthiest option. It will prevent your supply from decreasing and prevent your baby from receiving nicotine and other chemicals through your milk. This will also provide the best health for your baby by reducing the risk of respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and other sicknesses.

If you, or anyone, should continue to smoke, these guidelines can help your baby:

Cut down on smoking as much as possible – less is better.

Smoke outside, away from your baby.

Change your clothes and wash your hands after smoking.

Wear a jacket or protective cover to keep smoke particles off of your clothing.

Monitor your baby’s weight gain to be sure your supply isn’t being affected.

Smoke after feeding rather than before to decrease the amount of nicotine in your milk. Nicotine levels decrease by half around 90 minutes after smoking.

Make sure your child’s environments are smoke-free.

Smoking while breastfeeding can lead to many health problems for babies. The chemicals in cigarettes or e-cigarettes pass through breast milk directly to your baby. Second and thirdhand smoke can cause your baby to be sick frequently, suffering from respiratory and other infections. While not smoking near your baby is an option, the chemicals can still be breathed in. Not smoking at all is best.