Hopefully the issue of smoking already entered your mind while you were pregnant, and you have already taken steps to quit or reduce the habit. However, nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and many women are unable to quit even during pregnancy. Many smoking moms are eager to return to the habit once the baby is born, but the lucky ones are able to use those nine months to quit for good. As in pregnancy, the motivation to quit is high. Once you hold that newborn baby in your arms and those protective mothering hormones set in, instincts help drive you toward keeping your baby safe from all harm. Advice says, let the baby be your motivator to quit this unhealthy habit. Unfortunately that may be too simple. With this new bundle of joy also comes postpartum depression, baby blues, and guaranteed exhaustion and stress. These new demands can lead many women to desire to pick up the habit again, even if they managed to quit previously.
The majority of new moms can at least cut back to reduce the negative affects to your baby. However, if you are considering taking up smoking again as a new breastfeeding mom, there are some facts to consider. Smoking and breastfeeding do impact an infant, but not to the same degree as when you were pregnant.
First Consider the Negative Factors
Babies who nurse from moms who smoke will consume the nicotine and pesticides found in cigarettes through the breast milk. Little is known about the affects of these chemicals in the babies system; therefore, doctors recommend avoiding them if possible. Babies with nicotine in their systems usually cry more and have a higher incidence of colic. For lactating mothers, typically less milk is produced if you also smoke.
The greatest impact to the young infant in a household with smokers actually has absolutely nothing to do with breastfeeding. Secondhand smoke, whether a baby is breastfed or not, can lead to a variety of potential problems. The greatest known health risks for a baby exposed to secondhand smoke include the following.
- Baby Respiratory Infections - Babies in households with at least one smoker, Dad or Mom, have a significantly higher chance of coming down with brochiolitis and pneumonia.
- Asthma - Secondhand smoke has been shown as a trigger in development of asthma in children under the age of five.
- Ear Infections - Smoke irritates the ear canals, creating swelling and increased risk of infections.
- Behavior Problems - Babies exposed to cigarette smoke are more likely to develop learning problems and hyperactivity later in life.
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - Exposure to secondhand smoke doubles the risk of SIDS for an infant.
The rate of occurrence for these potential health disorders corresponds directly with the amount of cigarettes smoked. If you or members of your family are planning to continue smoking, then a few simple measures can help prevent most problems. Cut back to the minimum amount of cigarettes a day as possible. Never smoke around the child, and make the home, rooms and cars where the baby spends his time completely smoke free. The negative factors of smoke linger on clothing and upholstery even hours after the cigarette has been stubbed. Therefore washing your hands and changing clothes after smoking and before handling your child will also greatly reduce exposure.
Should I Quit Breastfeeding if I Smoke?
Even given the previous information, the answer to this question is no. While some habits or conditions of a nursing mom may lead to the decision that the infant is better off not nursing, smoking is not one of them. Since the greatest impact to a baby whose mom smokes is actually the secondhand smoke and not the nicotine in her breast milk, the baby is exposed to the negative effects whether mom nurses or not. At least in the case where mom chooses to breastfeed, the baby then receives all the positive impacts that nursing provides. For each problem linked to smoking: colic, infections, asthma, ear infections and even SIDS, breastfeeding has been proven to reduce the risk. Therefore, breastfeeding will help counterbalance the negative impact smoking has on a growing child.
If you are a light to moderate smoker who could cut back on cigarettes while your baby nurses, then the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks of smoking. A heavy smoker will need to discuss this issue with her pediatrician, as the baby's condition and lifestyle will need to be evaluated.