Dear Mothers, Here’s Why Smoking is Bad For You and Your Baby
Mothers who smoke, expose their baby to nicotine through breast milk.
Every year World Tobacco Day is celebrated on the 31st of May to increase awareness on the negative implications that tobacco has on lung health leading to cancer or chronic respiratory disease. What we often miss out is the detrimental effect tobacco has on the health of a new mother and her baby.
Breastfeeding is an unparalleled way of providing ideal nutrition for your baby’s development. The milk has benefits that begin from the first months of life and continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year. It protects the baby against infectious and chronic diseases. It reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhea. It ensures a lower risk of gastrointestinal infections for the baby. Mothers who smoke, expose their baby to nicotine through breast milk.
Health Hazards to the Baby
The nicotine transferred into the mother’s milk tends to upset the baby. It can cause restlessness, increased heartbeat and shorter sleep time for the baby. Chain smoking while nursing tends to show signs of nausea, vomiting, ear infections, sinus infections, abdominal cramps and diarrhea in the baby. The level of iodine in the milk reduces which increases the chances of thyroid malfunction in the baby. The number of doctor visits increase due to respiratory or allergy related complaints.
Effect of Smoking on the Milk Supply
It can lead to earlier weaning i.e. transition from mother’s milk to solids. WHO recommends minimum of 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding and nursing up to a year. Smoking causes the mother to wean before time which isn’t encouraged. It can also reduce the milk supply and reduces the let-down reflex, which causes the breasts to discharge milk rapidly leading to poor nursing by the baby.
Effect of Passive Smoking or If Your Partner Smokes
It is not only a mother who is responsible for the little one’s health but also the father. A study by European Society of Cardiology suggest that “Fathers are a large source of secondhand smoke for pregnant women, which appears to be even more harmful to unborn children than women smoking themselves.” They play a crucial role in monitoring his baby’s health especially during the nascent stage when they are more sensitive to falling ill.
The passive smoke in the home acts as an irritant for the baby. It lowers blood levels of HDL in children which is the good cholesterol that protects against coronary artery disease.
In fact, smoking parents can have the following life-threatening effects on the baby:
- high risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- double the child’s risk of acquiring lung cancer later in life
So, it is advised to both the parents to refrain from smoking during pregnancy and breastfeeding period. It is recommended that you first try and quit without medication. However, if you are unable to quit, you may use nicotine replacement therapy (gum, lozenges, mouth spray, an inhaler, or 16-hour patches).
These products, though considered safer than smoking, may not be entirely risk free for your baby.
Breastfeeding is the easiest time to quit one of the toughest addictions, smoking because certain substances in the system such as prolactin (the hormone indicating the breasts to produce more milk) reduces the withdrawal symptoms. One can also use a nicotine patch post consultation with your doctor or lactation consultant.
Remember, the initial years of your baby’s life are important to build a strong and healthy foundation, devoid of serious health ailments. Mother’s milk is the natural nourishment with dearth of health benefits and therefore it becomes a parental duty to protect your baby’s food from external health hazards.
(Dr Gayatri Uma Maheswari, Chirayu nutrition and wellness studio and part of Medela India LC Club)
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