Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, ear infections, respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The chemicals found in tobacco, including nicotine, can be passed from a breastfeeding mother who uses tobacco to her infant through breast milk.

Amy Winter, director of the Office of Tobacco Control at the Mississippi State Department of Health, said it doesn’t matter if the mother breastfeeds or uses infant formula, maternal smoking is a risk factor for several illnesses including bronchitis, pneumonia, and impaired lung function in infants and children.

She continued to say that little is known about the effects of e-cigarette use by the mother on the infant’s health, but e-cigarette aerosol can also contain harmful and potentially harmful chemicals including nicotine and other toxicants, flavorings and solvents.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking also decreases maternal milk supply. It is likely through the effect of nicotine. Nicotine can lower the level of the prolactin hormone which causes breasts to produce milk. Mothers who use tobacco or e-cigarettes should be encouraged to quit. Smoking during pregnancy results in more than 1,000 infant deaths annually.

Despite the fact that nicotine and other harmful chemicals are found in cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco, a mother who uses tobacco or e-cigarettes can still breastfeed her infant. Breastfeeding provides numerous health benefits and breast milk remains the recommended food for an infant.

To minimize exposure to the infant, the CDC recommends mothers and others who smoke should not smoke near the infant, smoke outside, have smoke-free rules for the car and home, and change clothes and wash hands after smoking and prior to handling the infant.

For help with quitting and information on the health dangers of tobacco products visit, or call the Mississippi Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Janet Turman is the director of the Mississippi Tobacco-Free Coalition of Itawamba and Monroe Counties.

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