Nicotine found in breast milk

by Cheryl Leschasin
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 08/97) - A new medical study suggests that smoking mothers who breast-feed can pass on the equivalent of 20 cigarettes a day to their babies.

Previously, there was no concrete evidence that nicotine was transmitted to babies through breast milk.

Dr. Andre Corriveau, NWT medical officer, said the study, conducted by the Inspiraplex respiratory health network, sounds logical.

"It certainly makes sense, nicotine is very soluble." Corriveau also noted that nicotine passes easily through bodily fluids, including breast milk.

Researchers tested the urine of two-week-old infants for levels of cotinine, the form of nicotine when it is broken down in the body.

High levels of cotinine were found in infants breast-fed by mothers who smoke.

In fact, primary researcher Moira Chan-Yeung said a mother does not need to be a heavy smoker to pass on high levels of nicotine to her baby since cotinine appeared to be concentrated in breast milk. Breast milk contained levels of cotinine three times higher than that found in the mother's bloodstream.

Exposing infants, both in and out of the womb, to nicotine and second-hand smoke may cause increased chest problems, asthma, allergies and respiratory disease, not to mention addicting your child to cigarettes and smoking.

"It's a type of drug readily transferred through the body," said Corriveau.

Allan Becker, the second primary researcher on the study, said smoking mothers may create a child that is predetermined to become a smoker.

A secondary concern is whether smoking mothers will choose to bottle-feed rather than quit smoking and continue breast-feeding.

Researchers have yet to complete a follow-up study to the initial research.