Question: I started smoking when I was in high school, and smoked 10-15 cigarettes a day until I found out I was pregnant and I quit cold turkey. Now my baby is 6 months old and exclusively breastfed.
Over the past few months, I have gradually started smoking again. My husband still smokes, and it’s hard not to have a hit of his cigarette or even smoke one or two a day.
We don’t smoke in the house, and both plan to quit soon, but in the meantime, I’m thinking about switching to vaping. Are e-cigarettes safe for nursing moms?
Answer: Let me start out by saying that I know from personal experience how wicked hard it is to beat nicotine addiction.
I was born in 1955 and grew up in the heart of tobacco country. I started smoking as a teenager, got hooked, and didn’t kick the habit until my kids were grown. When my my first baby was born in the ’70s, everyone knew that smoking during pregnancy was a bad idea, but we didn’t know exactly how bad. We didn’t know about the harmful effects of second hand smoke, and when we smoked in the house, we worried more about kids getting burned or eating a cigarette butt than we did about them breathing in the smoke. Because of the warnings about the negative effects of nicotine on the fetus, most women at least tried to quit or cut back when they found out they were expecting.
Like me, many of them relapsed and started smoking again after their babies were born.
Fast forward a few decades and we have a new normal, where everyone knows how awful and addictive and dangerous cigarettes are, and it’s common knowledge that babies shouldn’t be exposed to cigarette smoke, ever. Cigarettes are just bad, end of story. If you care about your baby at all, you’ll put that pack down and never go back.
Except it’s not that simple. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance, and anyone who says giving it up is easy is either lying, or they never got hooked and then tried to quit. My six kids are all grown now, and although all of them are healthy, I will carry guilt forever about the fact that they grew up in households with heavy smokers. I did the best I could do with the information available at the time, and that’s all any mom can do.
Here are some facts about nicotine that moms need to know:
What we do know for sure is that the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the risk of exposure to nicotine. Due to this fact, both the AAP and the CDC recognize that breast milk is the best food for babies, even when the mother smokes.
When it comes to breastfeeding, are e-cigarettes safer than regular cigarettes? Almost definitely. Are they a completely safe alternative to cigarettes? Probably not.
Here’s what you should know about e-cigarettes:
Important Update: As of September, 2019, hundreds of acute respiratory illnesses have been reported in mostly healthy young people who use e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. There have been 450 possible cases reported in 33 states so far, and six people have died, raising concerns about the safety and regulation of e-cigarettes.
No single device, ingredient or additive has been identified. The majority of patients say they vaped products containing THC (the ingredient in marijuana that produces the high). Most of the cases have been associated with with black market marijuana (THC) vaping cartridges bought on the street.and not .traditional, nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes.
These lung illnesses aren’t caused by germs, but are due to exposure to high levels of chemicals in the vape liquid. Investigators are looking into the role of vitamin E acetate, used as a thickener, particularly in black market vape cartridges. Vitamin E is safe to take orally or use topically, but when inhaled into the lungs, the oily vitamin E droplets can trigger pneumonia.
The FDA warns the public that “Consumers can help protect themselves by avoiding tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing vapor products.”
So, here’s the bottom line:
And if you’re still struggling with your nicotine addiction, don’t beat yourself up. Continue to nurse your baby and provide him with the many benefits of breastfeeding while minimizing his exposure as much as possible.
Anne Smith, IBCLC
1. Safety of Electronic Cigarette Use During Breastfeeding, Journal of Medical Internet Research, Vol. 21 #8, August 2019
2. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement: Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, Pediatrics Vol. 129 No. 3 March 1, 2012
2. Dr. Thomas Hale, Medications and Mother’s Milk, 15th Edition, 2012
3. CDC. Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults-United States 2005-2013. 2014; 63(47):1108-1112.4 3.
4. Schripp T, Markewitz D, Udhe E, Salthammer T. Does e-cigarette consumption cause passive vaping? 2013; 23:25-31
5. Czogola J, Goniewicz M, Fidelus B, Zielinsa-Danch W, Travers M, Sobczak A. Secondhand exposure to vapors from electronic cigarettes. 2013
6. What we know so far about the US vaping illness outbreak
Carla k. johnson, AP medical writer, Sep 10, 2019
7. FDA Warns Consumers To Protect Themselves By Avoiding Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-Containing Vaping Products, MJ News Network, September 9, 2019
If you have to smoke, e-cigarettes are probably less harmful than regular cigarettes.
Avoid vaping marijuana cartridges purchased on the street because they are extremely dangerous.
When I was pregnant with my first child in 2006, I went to a…