Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health

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How does smoking affect pregnant women and their babies?

Pregnant women who smoke risk the health and lives of their unborn babies. Smoking during pregnancy is linked with a greater chance of miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth, infant death, low birth-weight, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Up to 5% of infant deaths could be prevented if pregnant women did not smoke. Many women know about some of these hazards, and most try to stop smoking when they find out they’re pregnant.

When a pregnant woman smokes, she’s smoking for 2. The nicotine, carbon monoxide, and other harmful chemicals enter her bloodstream, go into the baby’s body, and keep it from getting the vital nutrients and oxygen it needs for growth.

Breast-feeding is the best way to feed a new baby. But mothers who smoke expose the baby to nicotine and other substances through breast milk. Nicotine can cause unwanted symptoms in the baby, such as restlessness, a faster heartbeat, and shorter sleep times. Some studies have suggested that more mothers who smoke report colicky babies, but other studies have found more factors are likely to be involved. It’s best not to smoke while breast feeding. But breast feeding is thought to be healthier for the baby than the bottle, even when the mother smokes. Women who can’t quit right away can:

  • Make their homes smoke-free to keep the child away from second hand smoke
  • Smoke just after breast-feeding to give the body more time to clear nicotine from breast milk
  • Cut back on their smoking as much as possible

Some research has also suggested that children whose mothers smoked while pregnant or who have been exposed to secondhand smoke, even in small amounts, may be slower learners in school. They may be shorter and smaller than children of non-smokers. They are also more likely to smoke when they get older.

Last Medical Review: 02/13/2014
Last Revised: 02/13/2014