Breastfeeding and Smoking Cigarettes

Woman smoking cigarette in park

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Smoking is not recommended if you're breastfeeding; however, if you do smoke you can still breastfeed. The benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the negatives of smoking, and studies show that the child of someone who smokes will be healthier if they are breastfed. However, there are still other issues to consider.

The Effects of Tobacco and Nicotine on Breastfeeding and Milk

Cigarettes are made up of tobacco and other dangerous substances. Tobacco contains nicotine, a potent and highly addictive chemical that can affect you and your baby. Since nicotine does pass through breast milk, it can cause symptoms of infant colic, restlessness, and sleep difficulties in your child.

Smoking can also have a negative effect on breastfeeding. It can cause:

Studies show that people who smoke are less likely to choose to breastfeed. When they do, they breastfeed for a shorter period of time. The rate of early weaning may be higher in [people who smoke because they are more likely to struggle with a low breast milk supply and a slow or difficult let-down of breast milk.

Try to Quit Smoking

Smoking can cause health problems for your child, but it can also cause health problems for you. You are the most important person in your child's life and your baby needs you. Smoking can lead to life-threatening illness such as cancer, COPD, and heart disease, which can take you away from your child.

If you smoke, try to quit. If you don't think you can stop smoking on your own, there is help.

  • Contact your doctor or local health department for information on smoking cessation programs and support groups.
  • Look into online resources as a guide.
  • Use a quit meter or goal setting app to help keep you motivated and on track.

Use of Nicotine Gum or Patches

If you can't quit with natural smoking cessation programs, talk to your doctor about other options. Depending on the dose of nicotine in the nicotine replacement treatment that you're considering, you may be able to use gum or patches to help you quit smoking while you're breastfeeding. Since nicotine gum and nicotine patches contain only nicotine and not all the other dangerous substances found in cigarettes and cigarette smoke, they may be a better option than smoking.

Use of E-Cigarettes

Since e-cigarettes are supposed to have nicotine but not all the dangerous chemicals found in traditional cigarettes, they seem safer. But, electronic cigarettes aren't regulated, so from one brand to the next, we don't really know what's in them. The amount of nicotine can vary and how much of it that will get into breast milk is not known.

At this point, there isn't enough reliable information on vaping and e-cigarettes to say that they're safe, and more studies are needed. If you're considering switching to e-cigarettes, talk to your doctor for more information and help in making the best decision for you and your baby.

What to Do If You Can't Quit Smoking

While some people can give up smoking fairly easily, for others it seems impossible. It can be extremely difficult to quit. If you cannot stop smoking, talk to your doctor. You should still be able to breastfeed. 

Here are five tips for breastfeeding if you continue to smoke. 

  1. Don't Smoke Around Your Baby
  2. Don't smoke around your child, in your house, or in your car. Cigarette smoke lingers in the air and on the fabrics where smokers have been. Even if you don't smoke around your baby, if you smoke in the areas where your little one spends time playing and sleeping, they will still be exposed to the smoke.
  3. Try to Smoke Less
  4. If you can, cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke each day. The more you smoke, the more nicotine will be in your body and your breast milk. Plus, you're more likely to breastfeed longer if you smoke fewer cigarettes each day.
  5. Smoke After You Breastfeed, Not Before
  6. Nicotine levels in your breast milk will be lower if you wait at least 2 hours after your last cigarette to feed your baby. The lower levels of nicotine in your body can also help you to have a better let-down reflex. 
  7. Don't Smoke While You're Holding Your Baby
  8. Do not smoke while you are holding or breastfeeding your child. Not only is it dangerous for the baby to inhale the second-hand smoke, but you may accidentally burn them with the hot ashes from your cigarette.
  9. Don't Let Others Smoke Around Your Baby
  10. Try to keep your baby away from other people who are smoking to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.

Warnings and Side Effects of Smoking

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Second-hand smoke increases the likelihood of SIDS.

Other Dangers of Second-Hand Smoke: If your baby breathes in smoke from being around you or others who are smoking, they will have a greater risk of developing asthma, bronchitis, and ear infections.

Debilitating Diseases: The use of tobacco products is associated with chronic illness and death from serious health problems such as lung cancer, other cancers, stroke, emphysema, and cardiac problems.

Droopy Skin: After breastfeeding has ended and you wean your baby, you are more likely to end up with saggy breasts if you smoke. Smoking causes the skin to lose its elasticity and look wrinkled and droopy.

Withdrawal Symptoms: If you do quit smoking, you may experience symptoms of nicotine withdrawal including headaches, anxiety, depression, nervousness, restlessness, trouble sleeping, and weight gain.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health effects of secondhand smoke.

  2. Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women's Mental Health. You asked: Is smoking while breastfeeding safe?

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking and tobacco use: Health effects.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to quit.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children in the home.

  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Benefits of quitting.

  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Managing withdrawal.

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.