Many smokers want to kick the habit but it sometimes takes a major milestone, such as the impending birth of a baby, to be successful, even if only for a while. A recent study of new mothers and their smoking habits found less interest in cigarettes the longer the baby was breastfed.

The Shisler Study

Dr. Shannon Shisler led the study from the University of Buffalo in New York that tracked 168 women from their first prenatal appointment until nine months after giving birth. Each woman in the study self-reported the extent of her smoking habit before and during pregnancy and submitted saliva samples that were used to confirm the women’s reports.

Previous studies indicate that as many as 70% of new mothers who quit smoking during pregnancy will relapse within a year of childbirth. Of these women who return to smoking after delivery, almost two-thirds of them relapse within the first three months after giving birth and as many as 90% will relapse within the first six months.

The Study’s Findings

The Shisler study compared each woman’s smoking habit before pregnancy with the number of cigarettes she smoked during and nine months after pregnancy. The findings revealed that the women decreased the number of cigarettes they smoked during pregnancy, compared with their pre-conception smoking habit. At nine months after delivery, the women, on average, were smoking about half as many cigarettes as they’d smoked before conception.

Furthermore, the women who smoked the least after giving birth and abstained for the longest were the new mothers who breastfed their child for 90 days or longer. Some mothers did not breastfeed their babies at all while nursed their children for fewer than 90 days.

Other potentially predictive factors under assessment of the study, in addition to breastfeeding, included the use of substances other than tobacco and the smoking habits of the new mother’s partner. Breastfeeding for 3 months or longer proved to be the greatest deterrent in a return to smoking at a pre-pregnancy level.

The research team suggests its study highlights the value of smoking intervention for months after childbirth as well as during pregnancy. For the best outcomes, the team suggests female smokers should be encouraged to breastfeed for at least three months for their own benefit as well as their babies’.

Effects of Tobacco During Pregnancy

Tobacco use during pregnancy exposes the developing fetus to toxic chemicals, such as carbon monoxide, which limits the supply of oxygen and nutrients the baby should get from its mother’s blood supply. Exposure to tobacco’s many toxic chemicals plus oxygen and nutritional deprivation during gestation are known to contribute to the risk of birth defects, miscarriage, and premature birth.

Effects of Tobacco During Infancy

Infants exposed to tobacco’s chemicals face an increased risk of health problems that include sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, and childhood obesity. The child faces increased risk of health complications through both the breast milk it feeds on and from the smoke-filled air.


  1. Shisler, Shannon, et al. "Predictors of Changes in Smoking From Third Trimester to 9 Months Postpartum." Nicotine & Tobacco Research (2015). Oxford Index / Oxford University Press. Web. 3 May 2015.
  2. "Tobacco Use and Pregnancy." US Department of Health & Human Services, n.d. Web. 3 May 2015.