Second Hand Smoke and Pregnancy

When a person smokes a cigarette, only about 15% of that smoke is actually inhaled by the smoker. The other 85% goes into the air, and then into the lungs of anyone who happens to be standing near by. It is estimated that a non-smoker who spends two hours in a room where someone is smoking will inhale four cigarettes worth of smoke. That�s one cigarette every half hour!

This means that, even if you�re not the one smoking the cigarette, if you�re standing in a smoke filled room, you might as well be. If you�re a pregnant non-smoker who is inhaling second-hand smoke, your fetus is being exposed to the same chemicals as the fetus of a woman who is a smoker. In the past, it was thought that fetuses were not affected by secondhand smoke, but recent studies have shown that the effects of second and firsthand smoke on a fetus are almost exactly the same. The repercussions of exposing your baby to smoke in the womb can be lifelong.

Something in the Air
There are over 4000 chemicals present in secondhand smoke. Of those, 40 are known to cause cancer and 200 are poisonous. To make matters worse, secondhand smoke contains more nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, ammonia and benzypyrene than the smoke that�s actually being inhaled by the smoker. And if you think that pipe or cigar smoke isn�t as bad, you�re wrong. Those types of smoke are just as bad, and often worse than the smoke that comes from cigarettes.

Study Findings
In a study conducted at the University of Louisville, researchers checked the blood of 410 recent mothers and their newborns for three carcinogens found in tobacco, all of which attach themselves to the hemoglobin in red blood cells. The carcinogens they looked for were:


  • 4-aminobiphenyl, known to cause bladder cancer
  • Benzo(a)pyrene, known to cause skin and lung cancers
  • Acrylonitrile, known to cause liver cancer


All of these chemicals will remain in the blood stream for the life of the red blood cells they attach themselves to until the cells are shed, after about four months. The levels of all three chemicals were found to be four to five times higher in the babies born to mothers exposed to secondhand smoke than in the mothers who were not exposed to any smoke during their pregnancy.

Effects of Secondhand Smoke on Babies
The risks for babies exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy are the same as those for babies of mothers who smoke. They include:


  • Increased risk of genetic mutations
  • Low birth weight
  • Increased rate of stillbirth and miscarriage
  • Higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Decreased lung function
  • Increased risk of childhood leukemia and other cancers
  • Increased susceptibility to disease



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