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Can Smoking During Breastfeeding Affect an Infant's Sleep Patterns?

Photo Credit: Gabriel Herrera

An article I read online relating a study about nicotine in breast milk and how it can affect sleep patterns in a baby really got me thinking: how much do our parents’ habits after we are born affect our internal programming for life?

As a non-smoker, I can’t sympathize with the mother who feels the need to smoke during those critical breastfeeding months. Many are successful at quitting during the pregnancy, but then fall back into the habit of lighting up once the baby is born. The same thing happens when it comes to drinking alcohol.

But the difference is people are more aware of alcohol’s negative effects on breast milk, so new moms continue to ban it from their diets. I was stunned to read what the study’s main author said:

“Because nicotine is not contraindicated during lactation, mothers may believe that smoking while breastfeeding will not harm their child as long as the child is not exposed to passive smoke. However, there has been very little research on either short- or long-term effects of nicotine delivered through breast milk.”

Nicotine is not “contraindicated” when a mother is breastfeeding? Given all that we know about the health consequences of smoking as well as a mother’s passing of nutrients to her infant through breast milk, it surprises me to hear that some would assume smoking wouldn’t also be harmful to a baby. It also would seem obvious (at least to me) that sleep patterns would get disrupted much in the same way smoking can affect an adult’s sleep.

It never ceases to amaze me how people view smoking as a “relaxing” habit. In reality, nicotine is a stimulant that can infringe on getting restful sleep. So when I read that babies whose mothers smoked in the study had a reduction in sleep time of about 37 percent (and that level of sleep disruption was directly related to the dose of nicotine infants received from their mothers’ milk), I wasn’t shocked out of my seat. Not in the least.

Which brings me back to this question: if our sleep patterns as developing babies are routinely disrupted (ahem, while our brains are forming and setting certain things in stone for life), how much does this then affect our sleeping patterns for life? Now that’s a study I’d like to read about!

In the meantime, I encourage all new moms to do as follows: snuff out the cig to snooze out soundly (both you and your baby).

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