We all know that smoking during pregnancy is extremely unhealthy for a growing baby. After all, everything that is consumed by mom makes its way to the baby as well. That includes substances that are inhaled, like nicotine and tobacco. So most responsible women who smoke find the strength to quit during pregnancy. But what happens after the baby is born? A new study reported in April by Science Daily examines that very issue and how breastfeeding plays a major role.
Cigarettes are addictive because nicotine found in tobacco relaxes the body and reduces stress. After inhaling, nicotine reaches the brain quickly, offering almost immediate stress relief. Other methods of stress relief are harder to achieve and may not be as effective in the short term. However, the “high” from a cigarette only last a short time and then the body craves it again and again, forming an addiction.
Women who work hard to break their cigarette addictions during pregnancy are making an amazing choice for the health of their babies and themselves. But, the report originally published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research indicates that 70% of women who smoked before pregnancy return to smoking within a year of giving birth. Of those women, over two-thirds return to smoking within three months of childbirth and 90% of them are smoking again by the time their babies are six months old. As we all know, having a new baby can be stressful, and a quick fix for stress relief like cigarettes is an easy habit to repeat.
However, the one and only indicator of reduction in postpartum smoking is breastfeeding.
New mothers who breastfeed for at least three months are less likely to return to their pre-pregnancy smoking habits. The study followed 168 women and looked at other indicators including use of other substances and whether or not their partners smoked. It was only breastfeeding that showed an improvement in postpartum smoking habits. There are a number of reasons that nursing moms may steer clear of smoking. First, nicotine does enter breast milk and is obviously not healthy for babies. Second hand smoke is also extremely dangerous for all children, especially newborns and infants.
According to Kellymom.com, babies who are exposed to cigarette toxins and cigarette smoke have a higher risk for health problems including ear infections, asthma, sinus infections, respiratory infections, high cholesterol, croup, pneumonia and bronchitis. Babies in a smoking home are more likely to have colic, die of SIDS, become smokers later in life and develop lung cancer. Also, moms who smoke while breastfeeding experience less milk production, less let downs and babies tend to wean earlier. For all of these reasons, many former smokers choose to avoid smoking while breastfeeding. And they are greatly improving the health of their babies and themselves in doing so.
The study encourages breastfeeding education as one of the best interventions for postpartum smoking. With the statistics overwhelmingly pointing to this one and only indicator of postpartum smoking reduction, breastfeeding may be even more powerful at ensuring a healthy life for mothers and babies than anyone ever realized.