Research has found that smokers are less likely to begin or persist with breastfeeding compared with non-smokers. However, this is not thought to be due to an inability to breastfeed, but rather to do with the background of a mother who smokes.1,2
Is it still safe to breastfeed if I smoke?
Some mothers who smoke believe that it is safer to give their baby formula rather than breastfeed. On the contrary, babies who are formula fed are more likely to suffer from the effects of second-hand cigarette smoke, compared to a breastfed baby. Breastmilk contains important factors to help babies fight illness. Exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke increases a baby’s risk of lung infections, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome.3
Breastfeeding helps protect the baby from these harmful effects of cigarette smoke.4,5
Of course, it is better if a breastfeeding mother does not smoke, but if she cannot stop or cut down, then it is better to smoke and breastfeed rather than smoke and formula feed.6
If you smoke:
- Smoke straight after a breastfeed. Nicotine levels in your breastmilk are halved in about 97 minutes after a cigarette.7,8 The longer the time between smoking and a breastfeed, the less nicotine your baby will be exposed to through your breastmilk.
- Don’t smoke in the house or the car. Keep the area around your baby as smoke-free as possible. Don't allow anyone else to smoke near your baby.
- Cover up and clean up. Each time you have a cigarette, the smoke is trapped in your clothing, hair and skin. You won’t always be able to change your clothes, brush your teeth, shower and wash your hair after each cigarette. However, you could think about having a ‘smoking outfit’ or something to cover your clothes, which you keep outside to change into. Cover your hair with a shower cap or scarf. You can then wash your hands and brush your teeth when you take off the outer layer.
There are various options available when it comes to quitting smoking and it is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Options and useful resources on quitting smoking can be found at www.quitnow.gov.au
Some people use nicotine patches to help them to quit smoking. Research has found that use of low milligram (ie 14 mg or 7 mg) nicotine patches and stopping smoking reduce the amount of nicotine in a mother’s breastmilk. This was compared to the use of a higher milligram (21 mg) nicotine patch or continuing smoking.9 Make sure you don’t smoke any cigarettes at the same time as using a nicotine patch and follow the guidelines for that product.
2. Donath SM, Amir LH, (2004), The relationship between maternal smoking and breastfeeding duration after adjustment for maternal infant feeding intention, Acta Paediatr, 93(11):1514–1518.
5. Ip S, Chung M, Raman G, Chew P, Magula N, DeVine D, et al, (2007), Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries, Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
6. Jose G, (2007), Maternal Smoking and Infant Feeding: Breastfeeding is Better and Safer, Maternal and Child Health Journal, 11(3):287-291.
8. Luck W, (1984), Nicotine and cotinine concentrations in serum and milk of nursing smokers, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 18(1):9–15.
9. Ilett KF, Hale TW, Page-Sharp M, Kristensen JH, Kohan R, Hackett LP, (2003), Use of nicotine patches in breast-feeding mothers: transfer of nicotine and cotinine into human milk, Clin Pharmacol Ther, 74(6):516–524.
© Australian Breastfeeding Association July 2014
The information on this website does not replace advice from your health care providers.