Breastfeeding and Smoking

While the benefits of breastfeeding can have a very positive influence on the health and development of your newborn baby, it is important to know that mothers who smoke can be putting their infants at risk for a variety of symptoms and conditions, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Learn about the effects of smoking on and find out how nicotine in breast milk can affect the health of your baby.

Nicotine and Breast Milk

Many moms smoke while breastfeeding to reduce fatigue or to suppress appetite. However, smoking can pose serious health risks for mom, baby and breast milk.

The higher the amount of cigarettes smoked daily, the greater the risk to baby's health. When a mom smokes up to 20 cigarettes per day, a small amount of nicotine passes into breast milk. This amount increases when a woman smokes 20 to 30 cigarettes daily. Heavy smokers have lower levels of milk production and their breast milk is also linked to lower levels of vitamin C. One study found that maternal smoking decreased milk production from 514 milliliters daily that was the average in non-smoking women to 406 milliliters daily in smoking moms.

In addition, smoking moms have a slightly higher metabolic rate than do non-smoking moms, meaning that caloric stores for lactation are lower so that a higher amount of food must be consumed in order to produce enough milk. Also, mothers who smoke are more likely to breastfeed for shorter periods of time, raising concerns with regard to proper nutrition.

Heavy smokers also put their babies at a greater risk for colic; in fact, one study found that babies of smoking moms had a 14% higher risk of colic than babies of non-smoking mothers).

Smoking just prior to or while smoking is particularly hazardous to baby's health, as this is when nicotine concentrations are at their highest. This is because the half-life of nicotine - that is the amount of time that it takes in order for half of the amount of nicotine consumed to be eliminated from the body - is 95 minutes. One study found that the flavor of breast milk collected 30 to 60 minutes following smoking tasted most like cigarettes compared with milk collected at any other time.

Another study found that levels of cotinine (the chemical nicotine changes to once it enters the body) in babies whose moms smoked and were breastfed were ten times higher than those of babies whose moms smoked and who were bottlefed formula. This finding suggests that the passage of nicotine through milk as opposed to exposure to nicotine was the cause of higher levels of cotinine.

However, smoke exposure also negatively affects a baby's health. Infants exposed to second hand smoke have a higher risk of developing such conditions as pneumonia, bronchitis and SIDS

Maternal Smoking: How to Quit

Despite these risks, many experts still believe that it is best to breastfeed, even if a woman does smoke. Using a nicotine patch is one option to help quit smoking; however, experts urge women to talk with their health care provider. Nicotine patches usually halve nicotine levels in the body compared with smoking; however, smoking while using a nicotine patch or gum has no effect on nicotine levels.

While quitting smoking is always the best option for you and your baby, other ways to minimize the effects of nicotine on your baby include not smoking during or prior to breastfeeding, using low-nicotine cigarettes and not smoking around baby or in the house.

For tips on how to quit smoking, click here.