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How can smoking affect my baby during pregnancy?

Smoking during pregnancy puts both the mother and baby at risk. Smokers have a miscarriage rate that is twice as high as that of nonsmokers. These miscarriages are often genetically normal fetuses. Pregnant women who smoke are twice as likely to experience placental complications such as placenta previa, a condition where the placenta grows too close to the opening of the uterus, sometimes necessitating a caesarean section; placental tears, where the placenta prematurely separates from the wall of the uterus; and premature rupture of the membranes before labor begins. All of these can contribute to miscarriages.

When a pregnant mother smokes, the child is affected by the toxic compounds of nicotine and by the lack of oxygen to all the cells in the body, which may not only affect the child's development in the womb, but also may affect the child's later growth and development. There is some evidence that smoking interferes with a mother's hormonal balance during pregnancy, which then affects the baby. A pregnant woman who smokes is at greater risk of having a premature baby, a prenatal death, or an underweight baby. There is also speculation that smoking may contribute to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) during infancy. Some researchers think the risk that an infant will die of SIDS is double the risk when the mother is a smoker. There is not only a higher incidence of SIDS among babies whose mother smoked during pregnancy but also babies whose mothers smoked around them immediately after birth. The following is a list of the effects of nicotine on the fetus, the neonate, and the overall development of the child.

The Fetus (the Unborn Baby)

Intrauterine growth retardation (slow growth)

The baby may be small and underweight

When a pregnant mother smokes, the child is affected by the toxic compounds of nicotine and by the lack of oxygen to all the cells in the body, which may not only affect the child's development in the womb, but also may affect the child's later growth and development.

Microcephaly (small head and brain)

Premature birth

High fetal mortality=

Neonate (the Newborn)

May be "jittery"

Have poor sucking or feeding responses

SIDS

Birth defects

Early Childhood

The child may be slow to learn and have school problems.

Many of these children are diagnosed with ADHD.

If microcephaly occurs, then the child will be mentally retarded.

Conduct disorder (anti-personality disorder) and other behavior problems are more likely.

Many have respiratory problems and/or allergies, such as asthma.

If the mother continues to smoke after the baby is born or relapses after having stopped smoking during pregnancy, the infant will continually be exposed to secondhand smoke, which may cause respiratory problems, allergies, and ultimately all the other conditions associated with secondhand smoking (see Questions 21 and 80). Many mothers relapse somewhere within the first six months after the birth of the baby.

The following factors contribute to a mother relapsing after stopping during pregnancy:

Exposure to other mothers who are smoking

Deciding not to breast-feed

Heavy smoking prior to the pregnancy

The stress and adjustment to motherhood and a new identity

How does smoking affect breast milk?

It is better not to smoke if breast-feeding for several reasons. First and foremost, an infant is exposed to both nicotine as well as other tobacco toxins through the breast milk. Some babies may develop signs of nicotine intoxication if the mother smokes heavily, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Second, the tobacco toxins passed through breast milk are greater than exposure through secondhand smoke, which means one is more than doubling a baby's exposure to tar and nicotine by exposing the baby through two routes. Third, tobacco negatively effects colostrum, the most nutritious component of early breast milk, rich in immunoglobulin[1], and part of a mother's body's immune system, which helps the infant fight infection. Fourth, smoking hinders the mother's let down of milk. Finally, smoking curtails breast milk production. The baby may then not get enough milk and may show signs of hunger and dehydration.

  • [1] An antibody or protein specifically created by white blood cells after they come into contact with a foreign cell or other object. Antibodies fight infections and other dangerous foreign cells such as cancer cells by surrounding the cell so it is eventually expelled from the body or outright killing the abnormal material.
 
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