By Jill Wilson, IBCLC
Smoking is one of the most difficult habits to break. Many women are told that they will be unable to breastfeed if they smoke. While smoking does pose risks to your baby, a baby who is breastfed will still receive more benefits than a baby who is fed formula.
The best way to reduce the health risks that smoking can pose to your baby is to quit all together. There are many smoking cessation programs that can provide support and guidance while you are trying to quit. Talk to your doctor about your goals. Many times, your doctor can guide you on a method that will work best for you
The American Cancer Society’s website has some great tips on how to stop smoking –http://www.cancer.org/healthy/stayawayfromtobacco/guidetoquittingsmoking/guide-to-quitting-smoking.
In addition, help can be found at Tobacco Free Allegheny,http://www.tobaccofreeallegheny.org/Where_to_get_help.asIf you are unable to stop smoking, the next best thing to do is to cut back on the amount of cigarettes you smoke. The less you smoke means less nicotine exposure for your baby. Don’t smoke immediately before or during breastfeeding sessions. Numerous studies have shown that smoking not only inhibits your milk ejection reflex (the let-down), but can also impact prolactin levels. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for milk production. Lower prolactin levels could impact your milk supply. Smoking during breastfeeding also exposes your baby to more second hand smoke, which poses other health hazards, such as an increased risk for SIDS, respiratory and ear infections and allergies.
Mothers who are in the process of quitting may choose to use nicotine gum or patches. Transdermal patches may produce a lower nicotine plasma level, while nicotine gum may produce large variations in nicotine levels, particularly if the gum is chewed rapidly (Hale, Medications and Mother’s Milk, 2014) If you must smoke, do so after a feeding. Likewise, if you use nicotine gum, refrain from breastfeeding for 2-3 hours after using the gum product (Hale, 2014). This will reduce the amount of nicotine present in your milk. The risks of electronic cigarettes have not been extensively studied; more studies are needed to determine the long-term effects of the chronic use of e-cigarettes.
As always, avoid smoking directly around your baby and do not let anyone else smoke around him or her. Family and friends that want to smoke while visiting your home should be asked to step outside. Once returning inside, they should change their shirt or jacket before being allowed to hold baby.
Quitting smoking will most likely not be easy, but it will be one of the best decisions you ever make for you and your baby.