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If you're a smoker and you want to breastfeed your baby, here's what you should know.

Are you a new mom considering breastfeeding but wondering about whether it's safe to mix smoking and nursing your child? If so, you may be relieved to know that "smoking and breastfeeding are compatible," according to Colette M. Acker, a lactation consultant and founder of The Breastfeeding Resource Center. "It's better for a baby for a mom to smoke and breastfeed than to smoke and not breastfeed," she says. The benefits a breastfed baby get from their mother's milk help protect them from the toxins in the air from cigarette smoke they're exposed to.

"Breast milk will help them fight infections," Acker explains.

Although nicotine may be present in breast milk, adverse effects on the infant during breastfeeding have not been reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also notes that "maternal smoking is not an absolute contraindication to breastfeeding," but it should be strongly discouraged because it is associated with respiratory allergies in babies, as well as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). According to the American Cancer Society, infants do absorb nicotine through breast milk, as well as through the air they breathe. However, breastfeeding is thought to be healthier than bottle-feeding, even when the mother smokes.

How Nicotine Affects Your Child
"Smoking and anything related to kids isn't a good idea," says Dr. Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital. "It's hard to know for sure how many of the toxic chemicals in cigarettes get into breast milk, and how much they affect the baby is going to depend on lots of factors, including the amount smoked and how big the baby is. (The smaller the baby, the bigger the effect of any chemical.)"

So quitting smoking is the ideal step a breastfeeding mother could take, especially for reducing the risks to your baby from living in a smoke-filled environment and being exposed to secondhand smoke. Inhaling secondhand smoke is one of the greatest risks your baby faces if you smoke while breastfeeding, says Dr. McCarthy. "The smoke itself is toxic. Even if mothers smoke away from their babies, the 'third-hand smoke' -- that is, the residue left behind on clothes, furniture and car upholstery -- is toxic."

Smoking and breastfeeding can also affect milk production -- it's been associated with a decrease in milk supply (which has the potential to affect baby's weight gain) and an inhibition of the let-down reflex for the mother, according to La Leche League International. However, "The Breastfeeding Answer Book" notes that "if a mother smokes fewer than 20 cigarettes a day, the risks to her baby from the nicotine in her milk are small." So if you can't quit, try to cut back.

How to Minimize Risk
If quitting isn't an option, take steps to protect your baby from secondhand smoke exposure. "If you smoke right after you nurse, you reduce the nicotine exposure to your baby," Acker says. Also, wear a coat when you smoke, so you can limit the amount of exposure your own skin and clothing have to the smoke. When you return to the baby, minus the coat, you'll have a less intense smokiness about you.

Curious about alcohol? Read Alcohol While Breastfeeding -- How Much Is Too Much?

Kimberly DeMucha Kalil is a freelance journalist and software consultant living in Southern Arizona with her husband and two children. Most days you can find her on Twitter talking about how wonderful her children are.

*This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither
Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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