Is it safe to vape when I’m breastfeeding?

Do e-cigarettes containing nicotine affect your breastmilk? Does vaping harm your baby? Here’s expert advice on what you need to know…

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In a nutshell: Vaping / using e-cigarettes won’t affect your ability to breastfeed but will almost certainly have an effect on your breastmilk. While no one really yet know if vaping while breastfeeding could have a long-term effect on your baby’s health, we do know from studies on regular cigarette smoking that nicotine (usually also used in vaping / e-cigarettes) absorbed by your baby through your breastmilk can affect your baby’s sleep patterns, for example. That said, the NHS also advises that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risk of nicotine exposure through the milk.

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Vaping and breastfeeding: what does the expert say?

Family GP Dr Philippa Kaye says that if you’re vaping because you’ve given up smoking normal cigarettes, it is a better option than smoking but you should still be careful:

Vaping is far safer than smoking and, while I can't say it is definitely safe as there isn't the research, it is likely to be far safer that smoking during breastfeeding
Dr Philippa Kaye

If you are going to vape when breastfeeding, do make sure you vape right after breastfeeding and leave a big gap between your last vape and your next breastfeed, to ensure there’s the least possible amount of nicotine in your milk by then. It’s also wise to make sure you vape outdoors, and away from your baby.

Dr Philippa also offers the reminder that, when it comes to pregnancy, “vaping is still not considered safe; quitting entirely is still the best option”. So if you are hoping / planning to have another child, you should aim to give up completely before you get pregnant again if you can.

How does vaping affect breastfeeding?

There is little research on the topic of vaping and breastfeeding specifically, says Dr Philippa.

We did find one study from August 2019, which focused more on women’s views on vaping while breastfeeding rather than the health effects on babies. It found that vaping could have the potential to improve breastfeeding rates if women do it instead of returning to smoking 1

There’s also a 2007 study showing that babies whose mothers smoked tobacco cigarettes (away from them) and then breastfed slept significantly less in the hours afterwards – compared to being breastfed without their mothers smoking 2. While this study was done using regular cigarettes, it looks at the effects of nicotine – also a key component of most vape pens and e-cigarettes.

Even though e-cigarettes tend to have much lower nicotine doses than typical cigarettes, that’s not the only potential issue: regulated e-cigarettes also contain ingredients like glycerol, propylene gylcol and ‘flavourings’.

A 2018 paper in Frontiers of Physiology says that, while these ingredients often considered safe for oral consumption, they’ve not been checked for inhalation purposes 3. They found that the chemicals making up those flavourings (including cinnamon and vanilla) were shown to be toxic to our white blood cells when inhaled. Doesn’t sound ideal, does it? Still, we really can’t say for sure whether or not the flavourings themselves specifically have any impact on breastmilk.

It’s clear that not enough research has been done on the long-term effects of vaping in general and of vaping while breastfeeding in particular.

Getting help to quit vaping

It almost goes without saying that the best thing to do for both you and your baby is to try and quit nicotine, and give up vaping altogether.

The NHS website has lots of resources you can use to help you quit. There’s also a Smokefree National Helpline on 0300 123 1044.

Pics: Getty 

About our expert GP Philippa Kaye

Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.

References

1. Safety of Electronic Cigarette Use During Breastfeeding: Qualitative Study Using Online Forum Discussions, Emily Jade Johnston, et al, Journal of Medical Internet Research. DOI: 10.2196/11506
2. Breastfeeding and Smoking: Short-term Effects on Infant Feeding and Sleep, Julie A Menella et al, Pediatrics 2007 Sep; 120)(3): 497-502. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2007-0488
3. Inflammatory and Oxidative Responses Induced by Exposure to Commonly Used e-Cigarette Flavoring Chemicals and Flavored e-Liquids without Nicotine, Thivanka Muthumalage et al, Front. Physiol., 11 January 2018. DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2017.01130

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