Smoking and Pregnancy: A Bad Combo for Mom and Baby
As if anyone needed another reason not to smoke, consider this: Cigarettes contain dangerous things like cyanide and lead, and at least 70 cancer-causing compounds. When a woman smokes during pregnancy—or is exposed to secondhand smoke—those toxins enter her bloodstream, which is the baby’s only source of oxygen and nutrients.
Two toxins that are especially harmful are nicotine and carbon monoxide. Experts say they account for almost every smoking-related complication in pregnancy.
The most serious complications of smoking during pregnancy include stillbirth, premature delivery and low birth weight. These complications can be attributed to the fact that nicotine and carbon monoxide work together to reduce the baby’s supply of oxygen with potentially grim results.
Nicotine narrows blood vessels throughout the mother’s body, including vessels in the umbilical cord. When this happens it chokes off oxygen to the baby. The red blood cells that carry oxygen pick up molecules of carbon monoxide, and the umbilical cord doesn’t transport as much oxygen as it should to the baby.
Too little oxygen can be devastating to a baby’s growth and development. On average, smoking during pregnancy doubles the chances that an infant will be premature at birth or weigh less than 5-1/2 pounds upon delivery. Smoking also more than doubles the risk of stillbirth.
Every cigarette smoked during pregnancy increases health risks to the baby. Smoking or a steady exposure to secondhand smoke is also a risk factor in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS—once called crib death—is rare, but it’s one of the most common causes of death in babies between 1 month and 12 months of age. Most babies who die of SIDS are between the ages of 2 and 4 months. What seems like a healthy baby suddenly dies during sleep. The lesson: don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.