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Can I smoke cigarettes when I'm breastfeeding?

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Updated July 17, 2009

Question: Can I smoke cigarettes when I'm breastfeeding?
Answer:

The simple answer is a resounding "No!", but here are the facts: We know that smoking is an addiction; it's bad for mom's overall health and it is a major risk factor for lung cancer. Mom is at a high risk for breast abscesses, as well. Even more frightening is the fact that smoking with a newborn in the home exposes him to secondhand smoke, which can raise the amount of inhaled carbon monoxide to dangerous levels, causing severe lifelong health problems in the child. Other recent research shows that smoking reduces breastfeeding protection against allergies and can actually aggravate already-existing allergies, while increasing the risk of respiratory illnesses by 20 to 35 percent; it is also a major cause of ear infections in small children. In addition, secondhand smoke exposure during childhood may increase the risk for adult lung cancer.

There also are many concerns about a cigarette's direct effect on breast milk and breastfeeding. First, nicotine is a drug and it likes to hang around in breast milk. In fact, nicotine levels are higher in breast milk than in a mother's blood. The levels do drop over time, so if it's absolutely impossible for you to give up smoking while you're breastfeeding, it is recommended that you extend the period between having a cigarette and feeding your baby to reduce the amount of nicotine exposure. Using nicotine replacement such as gum or patch is an option, too -- they transfer less nicotine into breast milk than cigarettes.

Another factor to take into consideration: Your milk supply will be greatly reduced and, as a result, weaning will most probably take place earlier. Studies have shown that smokers who have premature babies produce less milk over time and they find that their supply declines rather than increases, which also contributes to early weaning. There is also concern that the baby's weight gain and growth will be slower as a result of an increase in number of cigarettes that you smoke.

See our site on Smoking Cessation for tips on how to quit.

Sources:

Riordan J and Auerbach KG. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation. Jones and Bartlett, MA.

Active and passive tobacco exposure: a serious pediatric health problem. A statement from the Committee on Atherosclerosis and Hypertension in Children, Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young, American Heart Association. Circulation. 1994 Nov;90(5):2581-90.

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