Smoking While Breastfeeding – Does It Impact Breast Milk?

Smoking While Breastfeeding - Does It Impact Breast Milk?

Smoking can be challenging to give up.

Yet, what more motivating reason to do so than when you are trying for a baby?

It is strongly advised to give up smoking well before becoming pregnant.

Smoking during pregnancy can significantly harm unborn babies.

For a variety of reasons, some mothers do not quit smoking during pregnancy.

If you did not quit smoking during pregnancy you might wonder how this will impact infant feeding.

Do Mothers That Smoke Tend To Breastfeed?

Mothers who smoke tend to initiate breastfeeding less, and breastfeed for a shorter length of time than non-smokers.

It’s thought that the reasons for this tends not to be due to any physiologically differences between smoking and non-smoking mothers, but rather due to behavioural reasons.

Is Smoking While Breastfeeding Safe?

According to Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) mothers who smoke:

“should be encouraged to do so [breastfeed] because of the modifying effect breastfeeding has on the adverse effects of smoking. Even if parents persist with smoking, breastfeeding remains the best choice.”

Breastfeeding, Smoking and Health Outcomes

When compared to breastfed babies, formula-fed babies are at higher risk from the effects of second-hand cigarette smoke.

When a baby is exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke, her risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections and asthma increases.

Breastfeeding helps to somewhat counteract these negative effects of second-hand cigarette smoke. Whereas formula-feeding increases the risks.

According to the NHMRC, formula-feeding increases the risk of:

  • Being hospitalised for lower respiratory tract infections in the first year by 257%
  • Asthma (with family history) by 67%
  • Asthma (with no family history) by 35%
  • SIDS by 56%

For more information about formula feeding and SIDS, see our article here.

Quitting Smoking

Many options exist to help you quit smoking.

One option is the use of nicotine patches. Compared to continuing smoking or using higher milligram (21 mg) nicotine patches (and stopping smoking), using lower milligram (ie 14 mg or 7 mg) nicotine patches and stopping smoking reduces the amount of nicotine in your breastmilk.

Hence, stopping smoking using lower milligram nicotine patches is a safer option than continuing smoking. Side effects include headaches, nausea and sleep disturbances.

Note from BellyBelly: BellyBelly recommends the Allen Carr method, which unlike other methods, has zero side effects and gives you psychological tools to help you quit, for good. It also has a much higher success rate than any other methods.

A study in the Journal of Addictive Behaviours compared the effectiveness of smoking cessation methods over a 12 month period. They reported the following results:
  • Cold turkey 3.4%
  • Acupuncture/Laser 3.9%
  • Telephone help lines 5.4%
  • Nicotine Gum 5.7%
  • Nicotine Patch 6.2%
  • Zyban 7.1%
  • Zyban + patch 7.7%
  • Allen Carr’s Easyway Seminar 53.3% (increases to 75.8% for smokers attending follow-up sessions)
If you’re unable to attend the Allen Carr seminar, there is an Easyway To Quit Smoking book available too. However please note the seminar was measured in the study, not reading the book.
Here is a snippet of the Allen Carr Method, which gives you an insight into why it’s more effective than managing on your own:

Some Practical Tips If You Cannot Quit

If giving up smoking is not possible, you should decrease your smoking as much as possible, as well as:

  • Fully avoid smoking in the hour before breastfeeding and while breastfeeding. Nicotine levels in breastmilk halve in about 97 minutes after having a cigarette. The longer the length of time between having one and breastfeeding, the less nicotine your baby will get through your breastmilk.
  • Don’t smoke around your baby. Keeping the area around your baby smoke-free will help decrease her exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke.
  • Have a ‘smoking outfit’. When you smoke, smoke gets trapped in your clothes, hair and skin. Having an outfit that you only wear when you feed your baby and covering your hair with a hat can help reduce her exposure to some of this smoke.

It can be challenging to make extra lifestyle changes while also adjusting to caring for your baby. However, the lifestyle change to quit smoking is one that brings many benefits. While you work out whether to continue smoking or not, you are still able to breastfeed.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

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