Smoking During Pregnancy

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Smoking during pregnancy facts

  • Tobacco smoking in pregnancy is dangerous for both mother and baby.
  • The harmful chemicals from tobacco smoking are passed directly to the baby through the mother's bloodstream.
  • Effects of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy include increased risk of stillbirth and miscarriage, an increased risk of low birth weight, and an increased risk of premature delivery.
  • Secondhand smoke also poses health risks for mother and baby.
  • Babies exposed to secondhand smoke in the home have a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • There is no safe limit for tobacco smoke exposure in pregnancy.
  • Nicotine replacement products have not been studied in pregnant women.

How does smoking affect a pregnant woman and her baby?

Tobacco smoking affects both mother and baby and poses health risks to both. Smoking during pregnancy puts the baby at risk for health problems during the pregnancy and after the baby is born. Nicotine and all the harmful (and cancer-causing) products inhaled from the tobacco enter the bloodstream of the mother and are passed directly into the baby's circulation through the placenta. Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 harmful chemicals, over 70 of which are known to be carcinogenic (cancer causing).

Some of the known health effects on the baby include:

  • A decreased supply of oxygen available to the baby
  • Increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth
  • Increased risk of poor growth and low birth weight
  • Increased risk of premature delivery
  • Increase in the heart rate of the baby
  • Increased risk of breathing problems in the baby

These risks to the baby increase with the number of cigarettes smoked during pregnancy. Of course, tobacco smoking is also harmful to the mother, increasing her risk of cancers, cardiovascular disease, emphysema, and other conditions.

Quick Guide25 Effects of Smoking on Your Looks and Life

25 Effects of Smoking on Your Looks and Life

Secondhand Smoke and Children

Exposure to Secondhand Smoke May Lower Children's IQ

A study shows that children who are exposed to tobacco smoke in the home may have lower IQs than their unexposed peers.

Environmental tobacco smoke has already been definitively linked to a number of medical problems in children, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), colic, middle ear disease, worsening of asthma symptoms, and other respiratory problems.

Is any amount of smoking safe in pregnancy?

While the health risks increase with an increased amount of smoking, there is no known safe limit for tobacco smoking in pregnancy. All smoking can have serious health consequences for the baby.

What are the risks of secondhand smoke in pregnancy?

Secondhand smoke is breathing tobacco smoke from being near a smoker. It also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancers. The risks of smoking during pregnancy apply to pregnant women who breathe secondhand smoke as well.

For babies exposed to secondhand smoke, there is an increase in risk for developing asthma attacks, breathing problems, ear infections, impaired lung development, and coughing. Children exposed to secondhand smoke require more ear tube surgeries than those who are not exposed. One study showed that exposure to secondhand smoke was associated with lower IQs in children. Sudden infant death syndrome is more common in babies born to women who smoked during pregnancy as well as in babies exposed to secondhand smoke.

Can nicotine replacement products be used during pregnancy to quit smoking?

Nicotine replacement products result in a buildup of nicotine in the bloodstream in those who use them, decreasing the cravings and withdrawal symptoms for those trying to quit. However, the nicotine in the bloodstream directly enters the fetal circulation from the mother, and these products and their potential risks to the baby have not been studied in pregnant women. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that these products be used in pregnancy only when non-drug methods such as counseling have failed, and when the increased chance of quitting smoking with these products outweighs the unknown risks of nicotine use during pregnancy.

Medically reviewed by Wayne Blocker, MD; Board Certified Obstetrics and Gynecology

REFERENCES:

"Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke." CDC.

"Secondhand Smoke." Smokefree.gov.

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Men's Health Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Reviewed on 9/12/2016
References
Medically reviewed by Wayne Blocker, MD; Board Certified Obstetrics and Gynecology

REFERENCES:

"Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke." CDC.

"Secondhand Smoke." Smokefree.gov.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors