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Effects Of Smoking, Alcohol, And Drugs On Breastfeeding


What should I know about the effects of smoking, alcohol, and drugs on breastfeeding?

Smoking, alcohol, and medicines can all affect your breast milk. You can pass harmful substances to your baby when you breastfeed. Keep your breast milk safe for your baby. Do not smoke, drink alcohol, or use illegal drugs while you are breastfeeding. Tell your caregiver about all of the prescribed and over-the-counter medicines that you use. Certain medicines are not safe for your baby if you are breastfeeding.

What should I know about smoking and breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding mothers should not smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Ask your caregiver for information if you need help quitting. Nicotine and other harmful chemicals are found in cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff). These go into your breast milk when you smoke. Your baby is exposed to these chemicals through breastfeeding and by inhaling cigarette smoke. The more cigarettes you smoke, the higher the risks to your baby. Smoking affects your breastfed baby in the following ways:

  • Your milk supply may be decreased. Your baby may not get what he needs to gain weight normally.
  • The quality of your breast milk may be decreased. This can affect your baby's growth and his ability to fight infection. The chemicals from smoking decrease the amounts of iodine (a mineral) and vitamins found in breast milk. Your baby also may be able to taste nicotine in your breast milk.
  • Nicotine in your breast milk can cause behavior problems in your baby. He may cry more than normal or for no known reason. If your baby breastfeeds right after you smoke, he may have trouble sleeping.
  • Secondhand smoke can also cause health problems for your baby. He can have problems such as ear or lung infections and asthma if he breathes in cigarette smoke. His risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) may also increase if he breathes in cigarette smoke.

How can I reduce the harmful effects of smoking while breastfeeding?

  • Smoke fewer cigarettes. If you smoke less, your baby may have fewer problems.
  • Do not smoke in your home. Go outside to smoke. Do not allow others to smoke in your home.
  • Wait to smoke until after a breastfeeding session. The harmful chemicals in your breast milk decrease about 1 hour after you finish smoking.

What should I know about alcohol and breastfeeding?

Do not drink alcohol while you are breastfeeding. Alcohol goes from your bloodstream to your breast milk. When you drink alcohol, it affects your baby in the following ways:

  • Your baby may get less breast milk than he needs. Five or more drinks of alcohol decreases your ability to make milk. A low milk supply may keep your baby from gaining weight as he should. One drink of alcohol is 1½ ounces of liquor, 4 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.
  • Your baby's brain development may be affected. An infant's brain keeps developing after he is born. You can cause long-term problems with your baby's brain development if you drink alcohol in large amounts while breastfeeding.
  • Your baby may get less sleep than he needs. Alcohol may affect your child's sleep.

How can I reduce the harmful effects of alcohol while I breastfeed?

If you plan to drink alcohol, breastfeed your baby first. Wait at least 2 hours after you drink before you breastfeed again. This will allow your body to get rid of the alcohol so the amount in your breast milk will decrease. If you abuse alcohol, you may not be able to breastfeed. Alcohol abuse is when you drink too much alcohol or drink it too often. Talk to your caregiver about drinking alcohol while breastfeeding.

What should I know about illegal drugs and breastfeeding?

  • Drugs pass from your bloodstream into your breast milk and affect your baby's health. Some examples of illegal drugs are cocaine, heroin, LSD, marijuana, methamphetamine (meth), and phencyclidine (PCP). Your milk production may decrease. Your baby's growth may be affected, or he may not gain weight as he should.
  • If you have used drugs in the past, do not start using them again after your baby is born. If you have not used drugs or alcohol for at least 3 months, you may be able to breastfeed. You may need to give samples of urine for tests. If the tests show that you are not using drugs, you may be able to breastfeed. Ask your caregiver if it is safe for you to breastfeed your baby.
  • Stop breastfeeding if you use drugs again. If you started using drugs again while breastfeeding, stop breastfeeding and see your caregiver right away. Your baby should be fed formula from a bottle.

What should I know about medicines and breastfeeding?

  • Some medicines may go into your breast milk and affect your baby. Certain medicines can decrease your milk supply, make your baby very sleepy, or affect your baby in other ways. Tell your caregiver about all of the medicines you use, including over-the-counter medicines. Tell him how often and how much medicine you use. You may need to wait to breastfeed after you take certain medicines. Your caregiver may change the type or amount of medicine that you take.
  • Medicine used during labor and delivery may affect breastfeeding. Your baby may have trouble latching on to your breast for the first 24 hours if you had anesthesia or medicine to decrease pain. To help your baby breastfeed, hold him close to you, with his skin touching yours. You also may need to express milk to feed your baby. Ask your caregiver for more information about expressing milk.
  • You may need to increase breastfeeding. Breastfeed, express, or pump your breasts more often if your medicine decreases your milk supply. You can increase your milk supply by doing this. Ask your caregiver about medicines or herbs that may help your breasts make more milk.
  • You may need to discard breast milk. You may need to express your milk and dump it out while you use certain medicines. You may need to do this if you take medicines for a short time that may be harmful to your baby. This helps your breasts to keep making milk until you can breastfeed again. If possible, feed your baby stored breast milk until your caregiver tells you that it is safe to breastfeed again.
  • You may need to bottle-feed your baby. Your breast milk may be harmful to your baby if you need certain medicines or treatments. Pump and store breast milk before you start these medicines or treatments, if possible. You can feed this milk to your baby from a bottle later. You may also give him breast milk from a donor milk bank or infant formula from a bottle.

When should I follow up with my caregiver?

Caregivers will want to see you and your baby for follow-up visits soon after his birth. Keep all appointments. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Where can I find more information?

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
    141 Northwest Point Boulevard
    Elk Grove Village , IL 60007-1098
    Phone: 1- 847 - 434-4000
    Web Address:
  • La Leche League International
    957 North Plum Grove Road
    Schaumburg , IL 60173
    Phone: 1- 847 - 519-7730
    Phone: 1- 800 - 525-3243
    Web Address:

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your baby is 4 or more days old and has fewer than 6 wet diapers each day.
  • Your baby is 4 or more days old and has fewer than 3 to 4 bowel movements each day.
  • Your baby is breastfeeding fewer than 8 times each day.
  • Your baby is not gaining weight or looks like he is losing weight.
  • Your baby does not seem to latch on to your breast correctly.
  • Your baby acts fussy or shows signs that he is still hungry.
  • You feel you are not making enough breast milk for your baby.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • Your baby has breathing problems, seems more sleepy than usual, or is not breastfeeding well.
  • Your baby feels cold, shivers, or his skin looks blue or pale.
  • Your baby shows signs of dehydration, such as sunken eyes, dry skin, fast breathing, or few or no wet diapers.
  • You have been breastfeeding and drinking more alcohol than your caregiver says is safe.
  • You have been using illegal drugs and breastfeeding.
  • You have been taking medicines that you have been told not to take while breastfeeding.

Care Agreement

You have the right to plan how you are going to feed your baby. To help with this plan, you need to learn as much as you can about breastfeeding. You also need to learn about the effects of smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking medicines or illegal drugs on breastfed babies. Ask your caregiver any questions you have about breastfeeding. Your caregiver can tell you the best way for you to feed your baby.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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