‘Teen Mom’ Lambasted for Smoking and Breastfeeding. How Bad Is It?

'Teen Mom' Lambasted for Smoking and Breastfeeding. How Bad Is It?

Jenelle Evans and Kaiser. Photo by Erin Dietrich Photography/Facebook

Negative press is nothing strange for reality star Jenelle Evans — one of four drama-prone young women whose lives are documented, for better or worse, on the MTV series “Teen Mom 2.” But this time, Evans, 22, has managed to rile up the neonatal health crowd, with Twitter evidence that she’s been smoking cigarettes — despite still breastfeeding the younger of her two kids, 2-month-old Kaiser.

First came the tweeted photo of her boyfriend Nathan Griffith, who slept on a recliner with a pack of cigarettes on the floor — a detail that many followers pointed out. Then came this tweet from Evans — “I’m outside right now smoking a cig lol” —which sent folks into a collective tizzy. “Go back in and hold that poor baby, I’m sure he is having a nicotine fit too,” wrote one critic. “Would be pretty shitty of her to be breastfeeding if she’s on a ‘no carb’ diet smoking drinking,” noted another, while one more chimed in, “It’s absolutely hilarious that a breast feeding, cosleeping mom is smoking. WHAT IS YOUR MALFUNCTION????”

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The story of Evans’s apparent misstep comes on the heels of similar breastfeeding tales — that of Oregon mom Crystal Cain, for example, who fought her hospital to be able to breastfeed her newborn despite being a regular smoker of medical marijuana. And in Virginia, mom Crystal McCullough was recently kicked out of a restaurant for drinking a beer while simultaneously nursing her 11-month-old baby.

But when it comes to a breastfeeding mama’s vices and what effect they’ll have on her growing baby, there are a lot of factors at play, University of Rochester breastfeeding expert Dr. Ruth Lawrence told Yahoo Health. There’s the question of a substance’s toxicity and how quickly it dissipates throughout one’s system, for example, as well as the timing of consumption vs. when a baby is nursed, and, if you’re talking about alcohol, how fast the mom is imbibing and whether or not she’s eating while she drinks.

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In general, advised Lawrence, director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center in Rochester, N.Y., “You weigh the benefit of breastfeeding against the risk of what the substance is,” and in many cases — even with recovering heroin addicts who are taking methadone, for example — it’s better to keep breastfeeding, even if you can’t totally give up the poison, because of the valuable, brain-nourishing nutrients an infant gets from breast milk. She suggests nursing moms “avoid excesses” across the board, and check in about specific substances either with their doctors or with an information line such as the one at the Lactation Study Center, which advises callers on which drugs are safe to take while lactating.

That said, studies have found nicotine to harm the lactation process in a variety of ways, Lawrence said, from lowering the smoking mom’s milk supply to raising the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and disrupting an infant’s sleep patterns. “Nicotine is a stimulant, and if the baby gets a lot of it, it’s the same as coffee,” she said, noting that caffeine is yet another drug that nursing moms should watch out for. “We’ve had babies so jittery that we’ve done a neurological workup, only to find out the [nursing] mother was drinking six to eight cups of coffee a day.”

With marijuana, she added, the worry is for a nursing baby’s brain, which will double in size during the first year of life. Still, thought the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against pot smoking for a nursing mom, there have not been many studies on the effects. Even LactMed, the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s database of drugs and possible side effects on nursing infants, with less-than-definite warnings. “Although published data are limited, it appears that active components of marijuana are excreted into breastmilk in small quantities,” the entry notes. 

With alcohol, Lawrence noted, a slow rate of sipping, combined with a low alcohol content (a beer, for example) and plenty of food could actually make nursing while imbibing okay. “The timing is very important,” she added, suggesting that moms aim for “the greatest distance between the time they take a substance and the time they’re feeding.” So Evans, for example, would want to nurse her son and then smoke up — and definitely far away from both her baby and her 5-year-old son, Jace.

“Smoking fills the atmosphere, and a formula-fed baby suffers from that, too,” Lawrence said. “So it’s better to breastfeed if you have to smoke, and can control the smoking. At least you are giving the benefits of human milk.” 

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