Smoking While Breastfeeding: What Are the Risks?

It’s no secret that smoking during pregnancy poses huge risks to your baby – but many new moms who smoked before their pregnancy do find themselves falling off the wagon once their baby arrives. It’s safest for you and your baby’s health not to smoke at all when you’re nursing. But what effect does smoking have on your milk? Let’s break down the facts on smoking while breastfeeding.

What are the risks of smoking while breastfeeding?

quit smoking cigarette
Milk production relies on the mother’s bloodstream, so when you smoke cigarettes, your nursing baby also ends up being exposed to nicotine. In fact, the nicotine concentration in breast milk ends up 2 to 3 times stronger than that of Mom’s blood.

Nicotine can make your breast milk taste unpleasant to the baby, and they could refuse to feed. If you smoke more than five cigarettes a day, it increases your baby’s risk of colic. It’s also thought that nicotine can lead to vomiting and diarrhea in babies. On top of that, nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, so it can make it harder for your breasts to release milk.

It’s not just the nicotine in breast milk that puts babies at risk. Exposure to the toxic chemicals in secondhand smoke puts babies at a higher risk of allergies, respiratory disease, asthma and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The risks to your baby increase the more cigarettes you smoke. The full extent of smoking’s effect on babies isn’t fully understood, but it is clear that it is safest for nursing moms is not to smoke at all.

Is smoking while breastfeeding ever OK?

smoking mother mom baby cigarette
The safest option is not to smoke at all while you’re breastfeeding. If you do smoke, you should try to quit. However, realistically, it can be hard to break the habit. If you do smoke, it’s important to reduce your baby’s exposure to nicotine. Some steps include:

  • Cut down on how much you smoke. For example, if you normally have 5 a day, try to get by on 1 or 2.
  • The more you smoke, the greater the risk to your baby.
  • Don’t smoke before and during breastfeeding, as this can suppress your let-down.
  • Avoid exposing your baby to secondhand smoke at all times.
  • When you smoke, do it immediately after a feed, and try to wait an hour and a half before nursing again at the very least. By this time, the nicotine in your bloodstream will have gone down by half.
  • Keep an eye out for nicotine-related symptoms like colic and diarrhea of your baby.
  • When you smoke, try to prevent the smoke sticking to your hair and clothes. Try covering your hair with a scarf, and covering your clothes with up a loose coat or shirt that you won’t miss. When you’re done, remove the smelly clothes and wash your face and hands well.

Smoking while breastfeeding is better than smoking while feeding formula

The best option is not to smoke at all while nursing – but that doesn’t mean you should switch to formula if you’re a smoker. Breast milk is a great gift you can give your child, contains immune-boosting antibodies and has a protective effect for your little one.

Breastfeeding and smoking is a healthier choice than feeding formula and smoking. If you’re concerned about smoking’s effect on your milk, talk to your doctor about help with quitting before you think about switching to formula.

Reduce the risks from smoking while breastfeeding

baby kid child mother mom smile
One of the best things you can do for your health and your baby is not to smoke. But if you do smoke, it’s important to take steps to reduce your baby’s exposure to nicotine and the other harmful chemicals in cigarettes.

Don’t let smoking be the reason you give up on breastfeeding: even if you can’t quit, your breast milk is still better for your baby than formula. Talk to your doctor, midwife or lactation consultant to help you find the right strategies to help keep you and your baby safe and healthy.