Pregnancy and the Dangers of Smoking and Second-Hand Smoke

Dangers of Smoking

If you were to ask any pregnant woman if she would willfully endanger her unborn baby, the response would be an immediate and emphatic "NO." Yet, there are many women who continue to smoke during their pregnancies without regard for the effect of smoking on their unborn babies.

The dangers of smoking have been publicized for many years now and, thankfully, many women (and men) have quit smoking as a result of the public education endeavors of governments around the world. Still, there are those, particularly younger women, who have not taken the warnings to heart and ignore the potential risks. Even with all of the education, 13 percent of pregnant women in the US continue to smoke during their pregnancies. It is estimated that if all pregnant women would quit smoking, the incidence of infant deaths would decrease by at least 10 percent.

Effects of Smoking on Unborn Babies

The effects of smoking on adults are well documented. We know that smoking affects fertility in both men and women and of course, the myriad cancers that result from cigarette tobacco have taken their toll. But, the dangers of smoking are multiplied when it comes to children, especially those who are still in the womb. As a baby grows in the womb, the majority of the time in that "safe" place is spent developing the vital organs - the heart, brain, lungs, and nervous system. Irreparable damage is done to an unborn baby when the mother smokes.

Women who continue smoking, statistics have shown, have higher rates of ectopic pregnancies, placenta previa, and placental abruption. These smoking risks often mean a pregnancy will not make it to term. The baby is at risk and so is the mother's life. More facts about smoking include the increased risk of SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome, in babies born to smoking mothers. Women who are exposed to passive smoke - or second-hand smoking - are at almost as much risk as those who smoke. Passive smoke has a profound an effect upon the unborn baby of a non-smoker, dramatically increasing the risk of SIDS and other infant mortality dangers. Babies exposed to nicotine during pregnancy have reduced arousal mechanisms that do not allow the baby, once born, to sense lack of oxygen. Apnea and death are often the result in babies who are born to smoking mothers or to mothers who have had exposure to second-hand smoking.

The Facts Are Frightening

Additional dangers of smoking on unborn babies include birth defects. Even though a mother's smoking is the cause of many different birth defects, the father who smokes is equally responsible. Smoking causes a restriction of oxygen in the womb. Carbon monoxide and nicotine are released into the uterus which inhibits oxygen getting to the cells, in turn creating birth defects. Cleft lip and palate, clubfoot, limb defects, congenital heart defects, Down syndrome, gastroschisis (where the intestines are exposed through an opening in the abdomen) and imperforate anus (no opening from the intestines to the outside of the body) are but a few of the birth defects known to be the effects of smoking during pregnancy.

The Smoking Gun...

There is also a real "smoking gun" in the mix and that is the effect of paternal smoking on children. Cigarette smoking by a father before conception increases the risk for children under the age of five for childhood cancers. The risk for acute lymphocytic leukemia, lymphoma, and brain cancer is highest for children whose fathers have been heavy smokers for long periods of time. While most research has involved the impact of maternal smoking on unborn babies, recent research in China as well as the UK, has indicated that fathers who smoked were 30 percent more likely to have a child with cancer than fathers who had never smoked. It is thought that smoking causes genetic damage to sperm cells and these sperm cell mutations then become inborn cancer-causing mutations in the baby.

Quitting isn't easy, and if help is needed, the doctor can recommend methods and appropriate ways to do so while pregnant. The life of the baby is at stake.

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