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KOROR, Palau (August 13, 2002 - Palau Horizon/Marianas Variety)---Breast milk is the best choice for feeding infants. It provides nutrients, boosts the baby’s immune system, and strengthens the bond between mother and baby, among countless other benefits.

But the breast milk of a mother who chews betel nut with tobacco is contaminated with nicotine -- the drug in tobacco that can be poisonous to infants, according to the Ministry of Health.

A piece of nearly everything a nursing mother consumes can be found in her breast milk. That’s why nursing mothers are encouraged to maintain a healthy diet high in vitamins and nutrients when nursing her baby.

When a nursing mother chews betel nut with tobacco, some of the nicotine enters her breast milk, and is passed to her baby, the ministry said. The nicotine becomes concentrated in the breast milk, so no amount of tobacco use during breast feeding is safe, the ministry said.

Nicotine in breast milk may cause nausea, colic, cramping, and diarrhea, the ministry said. Any form of tobacco use during the nursing stage may also reduce milk supply, forcing a mother to feed her baby with formula, a less nutritionally beneficial alternative.

Studies have shown that while many women who use tobacco are able to quit while they are pregnant, most of them begin using it again after the baby is born. This can be an especially stressful time for mothers, who may be tempted to use tobacco to relieve stress or help stay awake for late-night feeding.

But avoiding chewing betel nut with tobacco during the breast feeding months gives the infant a significantly better chance of remaining healthy, the ministry said.

The effect of betel nut chewing without tobacco on breast milk and nursing babies is unknown. However, a drug called arecoline, found in betel nut, has been associated with health problems that include asthma and mouth cancer, the ministry said.

For additional reports from the Marianas Variety, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ Marianas Variety.

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