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Smoking While Breastfeeding: Worth the Cost?

Smoking can be an extremely difficult habit to break. Once a woman becomes pregnant, however, she should seriously consider the repercussions of this habit on her unborn child. Many women opt to cut back or stop smoking during their pregnancy with the mindset of picking up the habit again once the baby has been born by smoking while breastfeeding. Although smoking and breastfeeding aren’t the best combination, many doctors feel it’s better than not breastfeeding at all.

At the same time, smoking while breastfeeding comes with repercussions that parents should be aware of. By becoming better informed about the adverse effects of smoking and breastfeeding, parents can make smarter decisions that will benefit their children.

Adverse Effects of Smoking While Breastfeeding *

The adverse effects of smoking are well known in society today. Smokers not only endanger their own health, but the health of others due to the ill effects of second-hand smoke inhalation. Breastfeeding moms who smoke risk the health and welfare of their newborn child. Here are but a few of the repercussions breastfeeding moms may experience due to continuing their smoking habits:

Reduction in Milk Supply *

Tobacco chemicals can cause a decrease in breast milk production as well as affect its composition. This can result in mothers producing less quantity of breast milk to meet their baby’s needs. Some mothers are forced to wean their babies early due to insufficient milk supply.

Poor Quality Breast Milk *

Babies need quality breast milk for their growth and development. Cigarette chemicals can minimize vitamin and mineral content in breast milk, making it less healthy for the baby. Babies who drink poor quality breast milk may not gain weight as they should or receive the nutrients they need to ward off infections and diseases. It’s also possible that babies experience the taste of nicotine in the breast milk they drink.

Fussy and/or Unhealthy Baby *

smoking while breastfeedingBabies who drink breast milk with nicotine are more prone to have problems with colic, croup and sleep. This is especially true if mothers smoke shortly before nursing as babies get the full impact of cigarette chemicals in their milk. Nicotine in breast milk has been known to disrupt a baby’s sleep patterns, making it difficult for him or her to nap during the day or sleep well at night.

In addition to nicotine, cigarettes contain a number of other dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde, arsenic and lead that can seep into a mother’s milk and cause adverse health effects on a baby as he or she grows.

Dangers of Second-Hand Smoke *

Second-hand smoke can be extremely dangerous to babies, increasing the risk of a number of respiratory illnesses. Studies reveal that babies who are consistently exposed to second-hand smoke are more prone to develop allergic reactions, ear and throat infections, asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases. Constant exposure to cigarette smoke can even increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Further studies are being made into “third-hand” smoke, i.e., the effects of residual tobacco chemicals from cigarette smoke that lingers on a person’s hair, body, clothing, etc. Infants who are constantly exposed to “third-hand” smoke may suffer ill consequences as they grow.

How to Reduce Health Risks of Smoking and Breastfeeding *

Kicking the smoking habit is the best way to eliminate health risks associated with smoking for both mother and child. If stopping smoking is not an option, however, parents should make an effort to cut back on the amount of cigarettes they smoke for the sake of their newborn child. Medical experts offer the following advice to mothers who choose to smoke while breastfeeding to enable their babies to get the full health benefits of their breast milk.

1. As smoking may reduce milk supply and result in early weaning, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed as often as possible, rather than putting their baby on a schedule. Frequent breastfeeding can help increase milk production to offset any effects that smoking chemicals may cause. A mother’s milk supply determines how long she can continue breastfeeding her child while the quality of her milk determines how healthy her child will be during infancy.

2. Mothers who choose to smoke while breastfeeding should do so after feeding their baby to reduce the amount of chemicals in their breast milk between feedings. Cigarettes contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals that enter a mother’s breast milk when she smokes. During breastfeeding, these chemicals can be passed on to her baby. Smoking while breastfeeding exposes babies to the full range of chemicals in the milk supply. Smoking after breastfeeding gives time for chemicals to dissipate in between feedings, reducing the amount of chemicals that baby receives as he or she nurses.

3. Parents should smoke away from their babies to protect them from the harmful effects of inhaling second-hand smoke. Smoking outdoors rather than in a confined environment reduces the risk of developing respiratory illnesses from second-hand smoke.

Smoking while breastfeeding is a decision that parents should take seriously due to the ill effects it could cause to their offspring. Until parents wake up to the gravity of their actions, babies will continue to suffer from tobacco chemicals in mother’s milk as well as side effects of second-hand smoke. In a study published for the Society for Endocrinology’s Journal of Endocrinology, lead researcher Dr. Patricia Lisboa, stated: “… even a small period of nicotine exposure during breastfeeding can permanently damage the future health of a child.” According to Dr. Lisboa, “Smoking during breastfeeding can be as dangerous to offspring as smoking during pregnancy.”smoking while breastfeeding

Marijuana and Breastfeeding *

Smoking marijuana during pregnancy can have hazardous effects on an unborn child. Studies have proven that marijuana can hinder baby’s brain development in the womb. In a likely manner, smoking weed while breastfeeding can have detrimental effects on an infant’s health. After conducting various studies on the topic, doctors have concluded that babies exposed to parental marijuana use run the risk of experiencing serious health problems as they grow.

In the 2015 edition of their book Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, Enhanced Fifth Edition, authors Karen Wambach and Jan Riordan, state: “Mothers should be advised that all of these psychotropic drugs of abuse [marijuana, heroin, LSD, phencyclidine, amphetamines and more] readily enter milk and that their infants may be at high risk of sedation, apnea, or death if the dose is high enough. Further, all mothers should be advised that regardless of the clinical effect on the infant, their infants will be drug-screen positive for many days, and perhaps weeks, following their use.”

Smoking weed while breastfeeding exposes a child to the harmful effects of as many as 150 chemicals due to contaminants being mixed into the drug. Babies ingest these chemicals through their mother’s breast milk as well as inhale them by the way of second-hand smoke. Cannabis chemicals, particularly THC, the main chemical found in this drug, are known to accumulate in breast milk in accordance with the amount of marijuana a mother smokes. As such, heavy weed smokers could be contaminating their baby’s food source for months at a time.

Documented studies reveal that smoking weed while breastfeeding can lead to babies suffering from the following side effects: 

  • Poor sleep, lack of sucking power and reduced muscle tone
  • Low weight gain
  • Slow mental development
  • Mental health and behavior problems
  • Increased risk of SIDS

Even occasional marijuana use can have ill effects on an infant. Many researchers suggest that mothers not breastfeed for a day or two after smoking weed to help cleanse their system before resuming. During this time, mothers can pump their milk and toss it out so as not to interfere with milk production and give their babies formula during this interim period.

Smoking weed can also pose a risk to a mother’s health and hinder her ability to care for her child, endangering the safety of her infant. Marijuana smokers have been known to hallucinate, become indifferent to their surroundings and drift off into deep sleep due to the effects of THC in the drug. Such symptoms make it very difficult to properly care for a child.

Extensive marijuana use can adversely affect a woman’s reproductive system, making it difficult for her to bear children. Marijuana use during breastfeeding can hinder milk production, resulting in less breast milk to nourish her child. Cannabis has been known to influence women’s hormones, altering sleep patterns, emotions, moods and metabolism. These side effects can reduce a mother’s effectiveness in caring for her children. By being aware of these effects, parents can make wiser decisions concerning their marijuana use habits.

Smoking cigarettes and/or marijuana is a personal decision that people make on their own. Parents, however, have the added responsibility of caring for children and should use greater wisdom and caution in the decision they make. Babies and children rely on parents for their protection, provision, safety and care. Loving parents will do what’s best for their children, even if it means breaking long term personal habits that can interfere with their parenting efforts. Adopting a healthier lifestyle will enable parents to enjoy healthier and happier lives with their growing families.

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