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Smoking and breastfeeding - what are the risks?

Which is more important? Your baby or your next cigarette?

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The act of quitting smoking either before you get pregnant or as soon as you get pregnant means that your pregnancy will be safer and your baby will be healthier.
The reasons why a woman should not smoke while pregnant are well documented but what if you want to continue smoking whilst breastfeeding?

According to the NHS, even if you do still smoke it is important that you do not stop breastfeeding because of the range of benefits it bestows on your child. We need however to discuss the range of benefits that breastfeeding supplies alongside the detrimental effects of smoking whilst breastfeeding.

If you have smoked through your pregnancy and are struggling to give up but want to breastfeed, there are a number of measures you can take to reduce the detrimental effects.

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Protecting your baby from cigarette smoke and nicotine

As mentioned above, it is better to breastfeed even if you do smoke but there are a number of recommendations that should also be followed:

  • It is best to stop smoking but if you find that you are unable to do this, at least cut down the number of cigarettes you smoke
  • Keep house and the car free from smoke
  • Smoke after a breastfeed, not before and the longer the period of time from your last cigarette and the next feed the better as the nicotine level in your body will be lower
  • When you are smoking, protect your clothes by putting an old garment over the top
  • After smoking, remove the garment and wash hands and face
  • Do not share your bed with the child if you or your bed partner smoke
  • Check your baby’s weight regularly. It has been suggested that smoking can reduce the levels of fat in breast milk
  • If you cannot quit smoking cold turkey, nicotine replacement therapy, although not advised in pregnancy, is better than smoking cigarettes. Medication that can be used to quit smoking is not advised in pregnancy under any circumstances
  • Finally, do not allow anyone to smoke around your baby, either indoors or outdoors. Passive smoking can cause lung infections, ear infections, asthma attacks and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

What are the health risks of smoking around infants?

There a number of ailments associated with children that are exposed to smoke:

  • Respiratory illness such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Ear and sinus infection
  • Having colic
  • Restlessness
  • Suffering from allergies
  • Having a predisposition to smoking in later life
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Childhood obesity

Risks of smoking while breastfeeding 

For the child:

There are quite a number of risks associated with smoking during breastfeeding and they include:

  • Nicotine transfers from the mother’s body into the breast milk, from there it is passed to the child
  • Milk collected shortly after smoking was tested for taste. It was described as tasting like cigarettes
  • Babies with smoking mothers are more likely to suffer from colic
  • Increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

For the mother:

When a mother smokes she has an increased risk of developing breast inflammation and abscesses as well as mastitis (inflammation of the milk ducts).

Smoking and nicotine are risk factors associated with a condition known as vasospasm; this occurs when the blood vessels in the nipple suddenly constrict which causes pain after breastfeeding.

It may be the case that smoking after you have given birth to a child is associated with relapses of Crohn's disease.
Smoking may have a detrimental effect on what’s known as the ‘let-down reflex’ (a reflex that occurs when milk is released from the breast).

It may also affect the milk supply and be related to slow weight gain as a result of poor quality milk.

Benefits of breastfeeding

It is without a doubt that breastfeeding has significant health benefits for infants, partly because it facilitates normal development of the brain and other systems of the body.

It is believed that it is particularly valuable for babies that are exposed to smoke via passive smoking. In that, breastfeeding can help to cancel out problems such as the risk of infection, problems with lung function and help to normalise the levels of vitamins A, C and E.

Conclusion

When it comes to smoking whilst breastfeeding, far and above the better option is to quit smoking. Although smoking and breastfeeding are not recommended, it is best to continue as the benefits to the child from breastfeeding can actually protect the child from some of the issues associated with passive smoking.

All in all, we have covered a number of points about smoking whilst breastfeeding that may strengthen your resolve to quit; it is the best thing you can do for yourself and it is the best thing you can do for your baby!

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