The California Environmental Protection Agency (CAL/EPA) has identified tobacco smoke
and nicotine, a chemical in tobacco smoke, as developmental toxins, which means that there
is evidence that the substances are harmful to unborn children. Smoking by pregnant women
limits the amount of nutrients and oxygen that reach the unborn child. Effects of smoking
while pregnant may include miscarriages, still births, low infant birth weight, and sudden
infant death syndrome. Children born to smoking mothers may also suffer more colds and
other lung problems, and may have learning difficulties, and behavioral problems. The same
type of problems can also occur if a pregnant woman does not smoke herself, but is around
others who smoke. Babies exposed to cigarette smoke may experience more colds, lung
problems, and ear infections. Woman should not smoke while breast feeding because the
chemicals in cigarette smoke can enter the breast milk. Agencies such as the March of
Dimes and American Lung Association® offer suggestions to help pregnant women stop
Tobacco smoke and nicotine, a chemical in tobacco smoke, are listed on the California
EPA (CAL/EPA) Proposition 65 list of developmental toxins (Cal/EPA Proposition 65 List). This means that
an expert group of scientists found sufficient evidence that the compounds can be harmful
to unborn children.
According to the American Lung Association® (American Lung Association 2009), "Smokers take in poisons such as nicotine and carbon monoxide
(the same gas that comes out of a car's exhaust pipe). These poisons get into the
placenta, which is the tissue that connects the mother and the baby before it is born.
These poisons keep the unborn baby from getting the food and oxygen needed to grow. As a
result babies of smokers are often smaller. The American Lung Association® (American Lung Association Date
2009) has stated that underweight babies are "often sick with lots
of health problems. Smaller babies are more likely to need special care and stay longer in
the hospital. Some may die either at birth or within the first year." According to
the March of Dimes, other problems associated with smoking during pregnancy include
miscarriages, still births, and premature birth (March
of Dimes, September 2006 ). The American Lung Association® has stated that (American Lung
Association September 2000) "Smoking during pregnancy is estimated to account for
20 to 30 percent of low-birth weight babies, up to 14 percent of preterm deliveries, and
some 10 percent of all infant deaths."
Some of the effects of smoking while pregnant may not be apparent at
birth, but are seen as the child starts to develop. Smoking during pregnancy
may be a cause of sudden infant death syndrome (crib death), a condition in
which apparently healthy babies die suddenly while sleeping (March
of Dimes, September 2006). Additionally, maternal smoking during and after
pregnancy has been linked to asthma in children (American Lung
Association 2009). In addition, the children may have
learning difficulties and behavioral problems (March
of Dimes, September 2006).
Exposure to second hand smoke, also called involuntary smoking, occurs when non-smokers
breath in the cigarette smoke from others around them. Second hand smoke is harmful to
both pregnant women and infants. According to the American Lung Association®, "New studies show that if a woman's partner smokes near her
during her pregnancy, there are added risks. She has a greater chance of having a baby
that weighs too little and may have health problems."
According to the American Lung Association® (American Lung
Association 2009), women should not smoke while breast feeding because,
"Breast milk often contains whatever is in the woman's body. If the woman smokes, the
baby ingests the nicotine in her breast milk."
The American Lung Association® (American Lung Association 2009) has stated, "The best time to quit is when the woman thinks
she will get pregnant in the near future. If she does quit, her baby will probably weigh
the same as the baby of a woman who has never smoked. Or if she quits within the first
three or four months of her pregnancy she can lower her baby's chance of being born too
small and with lots of health problems. Even if a woman quits at the end of her pregnancy,
she can help her baby get more oxygen and have a better chance of making it. It's never
too late to quit, but the earlier the better for both the mother and her baby!"
According to the American Lung Association® (American Lung Association
2009), "Reducing frequency of smoking may not benefit the baby. A
pregnant woman who reduces her smoking pattern or switches to lower tar cigarettes may
inhale more deeply or take more puffs to get the same amount of nicotine as before."
The following tips for helping a pregnant woman stop smoking were
obtained from the March of Dimes (March
of Dimes, September 2006):
- Write down why you want to stop smoking.
- Choose a "Quit Day" sometime in the next two weeks.
- Ask a nonsmoking "buddy," like your partner or a friend, to help you quit.
- Throw out all cigarettes, ash trays, matches and lighters on your "Quit Day."
- Stay away from places and activities that make you want to smoke.
When you feel like smoking, do one of these instead:
- Brush your teeth.
- Go for a walk.
- Call a friend.
- Drink water or juice.
- Chew sugarless gum or eat carrot sticks.
- Take a deep breath and count to five. Let the air out slowly. Do this five times.
- Refer back to your list of reasons for quitting.
- Keep your hands busy. Find things to do with your hands so you can't hold a cigarette.
- Tell yourself, "I can quit smoking."
The following agencies can be contacted for more information about smoking and
pregnancy or for help to quit smoking:
For a catalog of educational materials, brochures, information sheets, videos, and
Spanish language materials, contact the March of Dimes Resource Center or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation
1275 Mamaroneck Ave.
White Plains, New York 10605
Call Toll Free: 888-MODIMES (663-4637)
For more information on lung health programs, and special events, call your local
American Lung Association at 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872)
(American Lung Association 2009)