How Lifestyle Affects Breast Milk
Smoking, Drugs, and Alcohol
A woman’s lifestyle may affect her breast milk, and have an impact on the baby. During breastfeeding, it is important for a woman not to consume alcohol, smoke, or take drugs. These substances are known to pass through the breast milk. This information can help mothers to understand better about the consequences of smoking, using drugs, and drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
If you smoke tobacco, it is best for you and your baby if you try to quit as soon as possible. Talk to your doctor for help. Tobacco from cigarettes contains a drug called nicotine, which transfers to breast milk and may even affect the amount of milk you produce. The risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) becomes greater when a mother smokes or when the baby is around second-hand (or passive) smoke. Smoking and passive smoke may also increase respiratory and ear infections in babies. If you can't quit, it is still better to breastfeed because the benefits of breast milk still outweigh the risks from nicotine.
If you are breastfeeding, you should not take illegal drugs. Some drugs, such as cocaine and PCP, can make the baby high. Other drugs, such as heroin and marijuana can cause irritability, poor sleeping patterns, tremors, and vomiting. Babies can become addicted to these drugs. If you are having a hard time quitting, ask your doctor or a trusted friend for help.
If you breastfeed, you should avoid drinking alcohol. Alcohol does get to your baby through breast milk, and has been found to peak in its concentration about 30 to 60 minutes after drinking, or 60 to 90 minutes if it is taken with food. The effects of alcohol on the breastfeeding baby are directly related to the amount of alcohol a mother consumes. Moderate to heavy drinking (2 or more alcoholic drinks per day) can interfere with the let-down reflex and the milk-ejection reflex. It also can harm the baby's motor development and cause slow weight gain. For this reason, and for your general health, if alcohol is used, intake should be limited. Light drinking or an occasional drink is okay, but avoid breastfeeding for two hours after the drink.
How Lifestyle Affects Breast Milk. Smoking, Drugs, and Alcohol. DHHS/OPHS/OWH/NWHIC. 2005. English.
Last Reviewed: November 2008
Last Updated: June 11, 2015