Risks Of Second-hand Cigarette Smoke While Pregnant

·4-min read

We know that smoking during pregnancy is incredibly harmful to both you and the baby in your womb. It is worse if your baby turns out to be the victim of someone else’s bad habit. Your exposure to the fumes of someone else’s cigarette can impact your developing child negatively.

Surveys and research have already proven the detrimental effects of smoke on the human body. This is the reason doctors advise pregnant women to quit smoking, as the effects of nicotine and other toxic substances present in cigarettes can even cause pregnancy loss. In

many cases, women who smoke quit during pregnancy after learning about the detrimental effects of smoking on their developing child. Other time, pregnant women quit smoking due to an aversion to smoke. These aversions mostly affect olfactory and gustatory, i.e. the smell and the taste, factors of the body.

But what about pregnant women who have smokers among friends and family?

What is Second-hand Smoke and Why is it Risky?

Inhaling other people’s smoke unintentionally is known as second-hand smoking, and is also called passive smoking. You are a passive smoker when smokers around you – whether family, friends or people at the workplace – are exhaling smoke, which you then inhale. When this happens, the toxins of cigarette smoke enter your system, even though you refrain from smoking yourself. 

smelling cigarette smoke while pregnant
smelling cigarette smoke while pregnant

Image source: iStock

Second-hand smoke poses health risks for everyone, including children. Even adults may develop serious health issues, sometimes. Some health problems that adults may encounter from exposure to smoke are:

  • Cardiovascular diseases

  • Stroke

  • Lung cancer

  • Respiratory problems

  • Reproductive problems in women

Short-term effects of exposure are limited to coughing, sore throat, nasal irritation, eye irritation and headaches. Long-term exposure thickens the blood. So all health issues related to blood clots are a possibility such as strokes, angina, heart attacks, atherosclerosis and heart failure. These risks go up by 20-30 % for passive smokers who are consistently exposed to smoke.

Babies and children are at higher risk of health problems due to exposure. The risks include respiratory problems such as:

  • Middle ear disease

  • Lung infections

  • Asthma

  • Bronchitis and Pneumonia

  • SIDs

Image source: iStock

Smelling Cigarette Smoke While Pregnant Harms the Foetus

You may believe that giving up smoking or being a non-smoker yourself will be safe for your baby. But that is not so. If you are inhaling second-hand smoke, almost 400 toxic chemicals get pumped into your blood including carcinogens, DNA damaging agents and heavy metals. Your baby, who receives all the nutrition and oxygen from your blood through the placenta, is automatically exposed to these toxins. The developing body of your baby may have permanent damages due to these toxins.

The risks include:

  • Low birth weight

  • Miscarriage

  • Pre-term birth

  • Stillbirth

  • Congenital disabilities

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (after birth)

A study from the University of Nottingham reveals that while there is a 20-34% risk of stillbirth for pregnant smokers, there is almost 23% risk for women smelling cigarette smoke while pregnant. Similarly, the range of congenital disabilities for pregnant women exposed to second-hand smoke was about 13% as compared to 10-34% for the smoker mums-to-be. The research propounds a chance of babies exposed to second-hand smoke to be born with defects of brain, feet and testes.

What to do About Exposure to Second-hand Smoke?

You must stay alert about smelling cigarette smoke while pregnant. As a precaution, have your doctor or midwife check your Carbon monoxide levels. This will give you a fair idea about your exposure. Here are some more tips for you to keep in mind: 

  • Consciously try minimising your exposure to smoke.

  • Avoid going to places where there might be smokers.

  • Choose transport wisely and request people to refrain from smoking in your presence.

  • Ask family and visitors to smoke out of the house and enter only after they have finished.

  • Keep doors and windows open if a smoker visits you. Try to avoid being around them – it’s not rude, and you are simply looking out for your developing baby. 

  • Talk to your employer about shifting you to a well-ventilated atmosphere if there are smokers in your workplace.

  • Talk to your doctor as well as your employer about using a respirator in the workplace, if your colleagues are smokers.

  • Keep cigarette residue exposure to a minimum before entering the home.

Remember, your baby will need protection from second-hand smoke even after birth. Continue practising the smoke-free habits in and around the house even after your baby arrives. With vigilant preparedness, your baby may stay unharmed from second-hand smoke.


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