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Babies exposed to smoking more sickly

Dear smoking mothers, quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your baby.

Did you know that cigarettes contain about 4,000 components, 2,000 of which are known to be poisonous? The deadliest of these are nicotine, carbonmonoxide and cyanide. These substances have been found to cross the placenta and reach the foetus.

One of the devastating effects of smoking during pregnancy is that the baby is either born prematurely or with low birth weight. Daniel Kadobera, an epidemiologist in the ministry of Health, says cigarette smoke restricts blood vessels, therefore, reducing the amount of nutrients and oxygen reaching the baby.

“A smoker’s body is especially sensitive to the first doses of nicotine each day, and even one or two cigarettes will significantly tighten blood vessels,” Kadobera said during a media dialogue to commemorate the world breastfeeding week last week.

Different scientific studies show that antenatal smoking is associated with increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Second-hand smoke may also affect your breast milk. Breastfeeding babies of heavy smoking mums usually have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea.

“Nicotine has been found in the milk of smokers and exposed non-smokers. Nicotine enters readily into mothers’ milk and when taken by the baby, it is prone to becoming ill after birth,” Kadobera said.

All-day exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke is comparable to smoking two to three cigarettes per day. Other effects of smoking on the baby include: risk of developing attentive deficient hyperactive disorder (overactive and yet accomplishing little), ear infections, pneumonia and reduced lung function.

The risks associated with not breastfeeding or mixed feeding (giving other liquids or foods together with breast milk to infants under six months of age) a baby are also immense. Such children have a higher chance of getting diarrhoea and other infectious diseases compared to those who are exclusively breastfed.

“Breast milk is not merely food. It is a whole diet for babies and provides all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals an infant needs for growth for the first six months, and no other liquids or food are needed,” said Dr Elizabeth Madraa, president of the Uganda Action for Nutrition (UGAN).

Breastfed children have at least six times greater chance of survival in the early months than non-breastfed children. In addition, breast milk carries antibodies from the mother that help combat disease.

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