Skip to main content

 

Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond

Skip section navigation

Your newborn: How babies and children are affected by tobacco smoke

When pregnant women smoke

Here's what happens to your baby when you smoke:

  • Your baby gets less oxygen and food because nicotine from cigarettes tightens up your blood vessels.
  • Your baby gets less oxygen when carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas from cigarettes, gets into your bloodstream.
  • Some of the harmful gases and poisons from cigarettes get into your baby's bloodstream.

Smoking increases the possibility of:

  • miscarriage or stillbirth
  • premature birth — smoking doubles the chance a baby will be born before 37 weeks
  • a low birth weight baby (less than 5 1/2 pounds). Small babies are often sick with many health problems. They are more likely to need special care and stay in the hospital longer. Smoking doubles the chance of a low birth weight baby.
  • death by sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Low birth weight babies are 40 times more likely to die in the first month than normal weight babies.

When smoking mothers breastfeed

Here's what happens to your baby when you breastfeed:

  • Your baby will get nicotine from your breastmilk. Your baby will get nicotine from your breastmilk. It is best to not smoke until your child is weaned from breastfeeding.

When parents and other adults smoke around babies and children

Secondhand smoke is a mixture of smoke coming from the burning tips of cigarettes, pipes and cigars, and smoke exhaled by smokers. Nonsmokers who are around secondhand smoke breathe in the chemicals from the tobacco smoke.

Secondhand smoke can be harmful to children because:

  • Breathing in cigarette smoke causes a child's airway to get even smaller, making it hard to breathe. Secondhand smoke:
    • causes between 150,000 to 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections (such as bronchitis and pneumonia) in children younger than 18 months old.
    • can trigger asthma attacks and make asthma attacks worse.
  • Secondhand smoke puts children at an increased risk for ear infections.
  • Secondhand smoke can cause tooth decay in children. Research has shown that nicotine promotes the growth of the bacteria that causes tooth decay. Young children who are around secondhand smoke have a higher risk of tooth decay than children who live with nonsmokers.
  • Secondhand smoke after delivery can also raise the chances of children dying from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
  • The more smoke a child is exposed to secondhand smoke, the more health risks he or she faces.

Children of smokers:

  • have an increased risk of heart disease
  • are more likely to have ear infections and colds
  • are more likely to develop chest illnesses such as bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma
  • are more likely to be smokers.

Why tobacco smoke is harmful

  • Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 can cause cancer.
    • Poisonous gases and chemicals in secondhand smoke include hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons), carbon monoxide (in car exhaust), butane (used in lighter fluid), ammonia, and toluene (found in paint thinners).
    • Toxic metals in secondhand smoke include arsenic (used in pesticides), lead, chromium (used to make steel) and cadmium (used to make batteries).
  • Secondhand smoke can cause cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems later in life.

How to protect your child(ren)

On average, children are exposed to more secondhand smoke than nonsmoking adults. No amount of secondhand or thirdhand smoke is safe.

The only way to protect your family from secondhand smoke is to live in 100 percent smoke-free environments. You can help protect your family.

  • Make your home and car smoke-free.
  • Ask people not to smoke around you and your child(ren).
  • Share information with other parents about the health risks of secondhand smoke.
  • Teach your child(ren) to stay away from tobacco products and secondhand smoke (in public and at friends' or relatives' houses).

How to quit smoking

The best way to protect the health of your family is to quit smoking.

For help:

  • talk with your health care provider.
  • check with your insurance provider.
  • call 612-863-3333 or go to Quit to LiveWell, a program of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, to get support to quit smoking.

If any adult in your home smokes and is not ready to quit, only allow smoking outside.


 

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, sixth edition, preg-ahc-90026, ISBN 1-931876-25-8

First published: 07/07/2001
Last updated: 08/22/2011

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts