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Breast Feeding




What are the effects of breastfeeding if you drink alcohol, smoke cigarretes, or even smoke marijuana??


Anytime you take anything into your body, it generally passes into your breastmilk, and you baby will receive it.

Cigarette smoking can affect not only the quality of breastmilk but also the quantity. The supply of milk may be lower; because smoking lowers the prolactin level (prolactin promotes a good supply of breastmilk). So if she is going to smoke she should not smoke immediately before or during breastfeeding. (in addition to the safety issues with dropping of ashes on the baby). Also the milk letdown response and milk ejection may be disrupted. If a woman is a heavy smoking her baby may have vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. These are the know effects, there are of course many other potential effects.

Alcohol also affects both the mother and the baby. In addition to safety issues of a woman on alcohol caring for a baby there is alcohol in the breast milk as early as half an hour after consuming the alcohol. The effects of alcohol are directly related to the amount the mother drinks. Regular use of alcohol by a nursing mother may result in slower weight gain. Sleepiness in the baby may be due to the alcohol. Also the mother who is an alcoholic may have less than ideal nutrition.

Marijuana has both direct and indirect effects on the baby. In marijuana the active ingredient is THC which crosses into breastmilk and stays for several days. (it is also present in the stool and urine of the baby). All effects of marijuana while breastfeeding are unknown, but it is know to affect the brain cells, and possibly DNA formation. If the mother is smoking marijuana there is also the added risk of second hand smoke to the baby. (resulting respiratory problems) Also because this is a "street drug" the purity is unknown and addition of other substances can have sever effects on the baby.

Having said all this, it is important to discuss your use of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana with your health care provider and the health care provider of the baby. Then after weight all the benefits and risk you make your decision regarding breastfeeding. Do not breastfeed, and hide this information your child's health care provider.

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Response by:

Donna   Dowling, PhD,RN Donna Dowling, PhD,RN
Associate Professor of Nursing
Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing
Case Western Reserve University