Alcohol, Cannabis, Tobacco, and NRT while Breastfeeding

Last revised: December 7, 2023

Alcohol

Tobacco

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

Cannabis

Alcohol use while breastfeeding/chestfeeding

Is it safe for me to drink alcohol when breastfeeding/chestfeeding?

When breastfeeding/chestfeeding, it is safest not to consume alcohol. Occasional drinking is not a reason to stop breastfeeding/chestfeeding. If you are nursing and are thinking about drinking alcohol, follow these simple steps to reduce the risks to your baby:

  • Follow Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health.
  • If you are planning to have a drink that contains alcohol, pre-plan!
  • Pre-planning can include:
    • Breastfeeding before you have a drink, then waiting at least 2 hours per drink, before breastfeeding/chestfeeding again.
    • Measuring the amount of alcohol in your drink, so you know how much you are drinking. Learn more about how to measure out a standard drink.
    • Invite your partner and friends to reduce their alcohol use to support you.

How can alcohol affect my baby?

Heavy, frequent drinking can carry increased health risks for you and your breastfeeding/chestfeeding baby. Alcohol is passed through human milk to the baby. Heavy alcohol consumption can put you and your baby at risk by: 

  • Disrupting your baby’s sleep patterns.
  • Decreasing the letdown reflex and the amount of human milk being produced.  
  • Affecting your baby’s weight gain, growth and increasing risk of developmental delays.

Are there alcohol free options

If you are breastfeeding/chestfeeding, non-alcoholic cocktails are a great option! They are called mocktails and have the flavour, without having the alcohol!

Try alcohol free beers, wines and liquors or some of these recipes:

If you consume alcohol and want more information or need help to reduce your consumption, you can:

For more information about resources, programming and treatment for mental health and substance use health.

For additional information visit:

Tobacco

Quitting and reducing the amount you smoke can be difficult, but there is plenty of help available for you. Remember that you are not alone.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and would like to quit or reduce your daily smoking, it is recommended that you receive both counselling support and Nicotine Replacement Therapy to help you achieve your goal.

The nicotine patch, a long acting nicotine replacement therapy, is recommended to support your journey to quit. The patch should be removed before going to bed to reduce exposure of nicotine to your baby.

There are also short acting nicotine replacement therapies available no matter how little or how much you smoke. This includes lozenges, inhaler, quick mist and the nicotine gum. You should always speak to your health care provider who will help to identify which product and dose work best for you and how to use them properly.

If you are considering Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) during pregnancy, please contact your health care provider.

What does Ottawa Public Health recommend?

  • That you try to quit smoking as soon as possible
  • Using NRT is better than smoking
  • Keep using NRT for as long as you need it
  • Breastfeeding women who continue to smoke should not stop breastfeeding. It is best to breastfeed first in order to minimize the exposure to harmful chemicals for your baby

Smoking while pregnant

Smoking during pregnancy can lead to:

  • Miscarriage
  • Going into labour too early
  • Your water may break too soon
  • Problems with placenta (with risks to both mom and baby)
  • Increases your child's risk for:
    • Being born too small
    • Infections and other health problems
    • Behaviour and mental health problems (such as ADHD, depression, learning problems)

Smoking while breastfeeding 

  • Smoking while breastfeeding can expose you and your little one to harmful chemicals and can lead to lower quantity of breast milk.
  • If you continue to smoke, don't stop breastfeeding. There are still many more benefits from breastfeeding. Just make sure you smoke outside and away from the baby.

Nicotine Replacement

Benefits:

  • You and your baby avoid up to 7,000 chemicals found in cigarette smoke
  • Helps you with cravings and withdrawal symptoms
  • Doubles your chances of quitting smoking
  • Exposes you and your baby to less nicotine than cigarettes

Risks:

There are no known risks to using NRT compared to smoking.

There are resources to help you if you need it:

  • For information and support to pregnant and postpartum women, visit the Pregnets website
  • Visit Health811 online or call 811 for supports to help you quit smoking
  • Visit the Smokers’ Helpline website to register for online programs and text-message support
  • Telehealth Ontario Smoking Cessation Coaching call Toll-free 1-866-797-0000

Cannabis use while breastfeeding/chestfeeding

How can cannabis affect babies fed human milk?

Cannabis is a plant that has hundreds of chemicals. Some of these chemicals are called cannabinoids, like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is psychoactive, meaning it affects you brain and the way you think, act and feel. No matter how cannabis is used, THC is absorbed and stored in body fat and human milk. This means it can be passed to your baby through human milk. There is no known safe amount of cannabis in human milk. Although not much research has been done on the topic, it has been shown that babies who have been exposed to THC through human milk may have reduced muscular tone, increased drowsiness, poor sucking and slow weight gain.

Breastfeeding/chestfeeding is important for the health of baby and parent. It is safest to not use cannabis while breastfeeding/chestfeeding.

  • If you can’t or don’t want to stop using cannabis completely, try using less, and less often.
  • Use a cannabis product with a lower amount of THC.
  • Avoid second-hand cannabis smoke for both you and your baby. To protect you and your children make your home and car smoke free. If you smoke, do it outside and ask family members and visitors to do the same.
  • Consider using cannabis products you can eat, such as oils, capsules or edibles rather than smoking to protect your lungs. Start with the least amount of THC possible and be aware the effects are delayed.
  • Avoid combining cannabis with alcohol, tobacco, prescription and/or non-prescription medications.

If you consume cannabis and want help to reduce your consumption or would like help quitting, you can:

For more information:

Do you have more questions about parenting?

  • Connect with a registered nurse from Health811 for free, secure, and confidential health advice. Service is available 24/7 in English and French, with translation support also offered in other languages. Call 8-1-1 or visit Health811.ontario.ca.
  • Connect with a Community Navigator from 2-1-1 for information about community programs and resources across Eastern Ontario. Helpline service is available 24/7 and in many different languages. Call 2-1-1 or visit 211ontario.ca.
  • Connect with other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.
  • There are a variety of services to make it easier for your child to grow up healthy in Ottawa.
  • You can update your child's immunization record using either the CANImmunize App or the Immunization Connect Ontario (ICON) Tool
  • If you have received a message from Ottawa Public Health such as a letter or a call regarding immunization, an infectious disease, or infection control lapse, please call 613-580-6744 and listen to the menu options carefully.

 

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