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Nicotine in Breast Milk Shortens Baby's Naptime

Study finds a 37% reduction in total sleep when moms smoked before feeding

TUESDAY, Sept. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Nicotine in breast milk disrupts babies' sleep patterns and shortens naps by one third, according to a new study,

"Infants spent less time sleeping overall and woke up from naps sooner when their mothers smoked prior to breast-feeding," lead author Julie A. Mennella, a psychobiologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, said in a prepared statement.

Writing in the September issue of Pediatrics, Mennella and colleagues argued that these results should lead to further research on the impact of nicotine on infant development. Many women who quit smoking during pregnancy begin again while breast-feeding their infant, the researchers said.

"Because nicotine is not contraindicated during lactation, mothers may believe that smoking while breast-feeding will not harm their child as long as the child is not exposed to passive smoke. However, there has been very little research on either short- or long-term effects of nicotine delivered through breast milk," said Mennella.

The study team measured the feeding and sleeping patterns of 15 breast-fed infants over three and a half hours on two separate days. The infants were between 2 months and 7 months old. All the mothers were current smokers who had abstained from smoking for at least 12 hours before the observation periods.

The mothers smoked one to three cigarettes before one of the observation periods and didn't smoke anything before the second period. On both occasions, the mothers breast-fed their infants on demand during the observation period. Following each feeding, the mothers laid the infants down in a cot or on the floor.

An actigraph on the babies' ankles allowed researchers to monitor sleep and activity. Levels of nicotine and cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine processed by the body, were measured in breast milk samples provided by the mothers before each feeding.

Babies whose mothers smoked before the observation period napped for 53 minutes compared to 84 minutes of napping among babies whose mothers did not smoke. The 37 percent reduction in total sleep time was due to a shortening of the longest nap and to reductions in the amount of time spent in both active and quiet sleep.

Researchers noted that the infants consumed the same amount of breast milk during each observation period, suggesting that they accepted the tobacco flavoring of the milk.

Previous research by Mennella's team had shown that nicotine levels peak in breast milk 30 minutes to 60 minutes after smoking one to two cigarettes and are gone after three hours, suggesting that mothers can time their smoking and breast-feeding opportunities. Additional research is needed to fully understand the impact of nicotine on infant development, Mennella said.

More information

To learn more about breast-feeding, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-- Madeline Vann

SOURCE: Monell Chemical Senses Center, news release, Sept. 4, 2007

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