The Truth about Breastfeeding and Smoking

Many mums who are smokers often question themselves whether they can smoke and still breastfeed their little ones or they have to quit altogether to be able to breastfeed. Common knowledge has it that nursing mums should not smoke as it is dangerous for both the mum and baby. However, recent research has it that mums can still smoke and comfortably breastfeed their babies.

How safe is my baby when I smoke and breastfeed?

There is a common belief amongst smoking mothers that their babies are safer when they are given formula milk instead of being breastfed. This belief is false. Babies who are fed on the formula milk, on the contrary, are at a higher risk of being infected through secondary smoking than those who are breastfed. Breast milk has ingredients that fight and cleanse nicotine from smoking mothers, these are however lacking in the formula. Second-hand smoking exposes the baby to various health hazards such as lung infections, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) as well as asthma.

Back to the initial question. Breastfeeding assists in protecting the baby from harmful effects of nicotine found in cigarette smoke. If it was possible, mothers who smoke should not smoke. However, there are difficulties in quitting smoking as it is very addictive just as using heroine. When it comes down to smoking, it is advisable that you smoke and breastfeed and not smoke and feed the baby on formula milk.

Is nicotine transferable through breast milk?

Yes, but only when you smoke up to certain numbers of cigarettes per day. Research has it that smoking less than 20 cigarettes per day, results in very low nicotine levels in the milk that it can be easily neutralised. This risk increases exponentially when you increase the number of cigarettes smoked per day. This shows that nicotine can still be transferred to breast milk, but the ability of the milk to deal with it reduces as the quantity of smoked cigarettes increases. Nicotine then is able to move into the milk as the baby feeds. Even those who invest in a steriliser for baby bottle to sterilise their baby milk bottles are not spared from the effects of nicotine.

What are the effects of nicotine on breast milk?

  • Researches carried out on breast milk from smoking mothers reveals that when nicotine reaches the breast milk, it causes it to have some sort of flavour just like any other foods. This flavour makes babies disinterested in feeding on the milk. They, in turn, shorten the lactation period.
  • Smoking also decreases the fat content of breast milk. The baby then gets fewer amounts of calories, making it harder for the baby’s brain to develop properly.
  • Smoking also suppresses the levels of prolactin in the blood. Prolactin assists in the production of breast milk. Reducing their levels reduces the amounts of milk that a smoking mother’s body is able and capable of producing.
  • Smoking mothers experience a low level of iodine in breast milk. Iodine is needed for thyroid function in babies.

What are the effects of exposing a baby to cigarette smoke?

The normal smoke always makes adult human beings a lot of complications like constant coughing, irritation of the eyes among others. The cigarette smoke is not different from the normal smoke and indeed it has various effects on your little one. The following are some of the effects of the cigarette smoke on your baby that you should be aware of as a mother.

  • Incidences of asthma, bronchitis, croup, pneumonia, sinus infections and eye irritations are higher in babies who are exposed to cigarette smoke than those who are not
  • The occurrence of colic is very often in babies whose parents are smokers. The nicotine in the breast milk upsets babies and the smokes irritate babies, making them fussier. The parents hence find it hard to cope with the colicky baby. This is mainly due to low prolactin levels.
  • Instances of diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal cramps and vomiting are very common in babies being breastfed by smoking mothers.
  • Chances of a baby dying from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) are about seven times higher in babies whose mothers heavily
  • Low blood levels of HDL are experienced in children with heavy smoking parents. This increases the risk levels of children to coronary artery diseases.
  • There are very high chances of babies from smoking parents to be smokers themselves in the future.

Minimising the risk of baby exposure to smoke if you smoke

Even though it is very hard to quit smoking so that you do not have any negative effects on your baby caused by your smoking habit, the effects can be reduced to a minimal level so that your baby experiences a healthy breastfeeding period. The babies will only breastfeed once in their life, why spoil this moment or them? Practice the following measures and you’ll be able to balance between safe breastfeeding and smoking.

  • The most ideal means of minimising the exposure is to stop cigarette smoking altogether
  • If you cannot quit smoking, cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke per day. The fewer amounts you smoke the lower the risks exposed to your baby.
  • Do not smoke while breastfeeding or immediately before feeding your baby.
  • Schedule to smoke after you have breastfed your baby. To further minimise the levels of exposure, make sure the period between smoking and nursing is more than 95 minutes. During this time, the nicotine will have been eliminated by the body.
  • Do not at any time smoke or allow anyone to smoke when in the same room or car with the baby.
  • If you consider yourself a heavy or light smoker, breastfeed your baby. Do not use a formula to feed him/her. Breast milk neutralises the nicotine that may be present in the milk.

Wrapping up.

The best way to ensure that you do not risk the health and well-being of your breastfeeding baby is to quit smoking. The extent to which smoking negates the life of an infant decreases as you cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke.

Smoking increases the chances of obesity, cardiovascular and diabetes in a newborn. Prevention is always the better treatment. This article has tried to bring out the real issues in breastfeeding mothers who smoke. This I hope will assist you in making sound decisions on how to help your young one if you are a smoking mother.

Author Bio: My name is Kristi and I’m a mother of 3 beautiful angels, founder of This blog was created in order to share my personal experiences in baby care and general health care for pregnant women. You will surely find many interesting insights and problems solved on this blog.

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