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Alcohol and Smoking After Pregnancy

August 13, 2013 by HealthyFamilies BC

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mom holding baby to her chest



Drinking and smoking aren't just harmful when you're pregnant - they can affect your baby's health, too.

It's best not to drink alcohol or smoke at all while breastfeeding. Alcohol can affect babies' sleep or decrease the amount of milk they take at feeding time. Smoking can increase their risk for sudden infant death syndrom (SIDS) or chronic diseases. Here's some more information on why to avoid these risks.

Alcohol and your baby

Alcohol passes through your body into your breast milk, and can cause a lack of energy and other health problems for your baby. Even a moderate amount of alcohol may affect the baby's muscle coordination, their sleep, their milk intake and your milk let-down.

If you do choose to drink a small amount of alcohol, try to feed your baby before you have a drink. It's best to wait for two to three hours after a drink before you breastfeed. Drinking water, resting, or "pumping and dumping" breast milk will not accelerate elimination of alcohol from breast milk. Only time allows the alcohol level in the breast milk to drop.

Help for Substance Abuse

  • Substances such as street drugs and alcohol pass through your breast milk and can affect your baby.
  • If you are taking street drugs or drinking alcohol in large amounts, do not breastfeed. 
  • Talk with your health care provider, public health nurse, pharmacist or HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 about getting help. 
  • You can also call the Motherisk Alcohol and Substance Use Helpline at 1-877-327-4636. 
  • The Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Line at 1-800-663-1441 is another resource for drug and alcohol programs.

Smoke and your baby

Cigarette smoking is not recommended if you're breastfeeding. Nicotine and other harmful ingredients in cigarettes pass through your breast milk and can affect your baby. Smoking can also reduce the amount of milk you produce and can make your baby fussy and irritable. However, because breastfeeding is so good for your baby, it is better to breastfeed than not, even if you do not stop smoking.

Smoking and second hand smoke expose your baby to a higher risk of:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Increased hospital admissions in the first year of life than infants of non smoking parents.
  • Ear infections and chronic illnesses, such as asthma and bronchitis.
  • A reduced milk supply in the mother.

It's best to reduce your baby's exposure to second-hand smoke by not smoking at home and avoiding second-hand smoke in public places. It is illegal to smoke with a child under 16 in a car.

Help to Quit Smoking:

It’s never too late to stop smoking or using other substances - it will benefit both you and your baby.

  • See your health care provider. 
  • Join a stop smoking program. 
  • Contact QuitNow by phone at 8-1-1 for free, confidential, no pressure counseling and support from trained specialists. Or visit the QuitNow website for support in the privacy of your home. 
  • Call your public health office or HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 for information on local stop smoking programs. 
  • Ask for the support of your partner, friends, family, and co workers. 
  • If you smoke to deal with stress, find healthy ways to relax. 
  • Focus on the health of your baby as a motivator. 

Resources & Links:
HealthLink BC: Breast-Feeding: Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drugs
Quit Now BC
HealthLink BC: Quitting Smoking

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  2. Aging Well
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