Sudden Infant Death Syndrome & Cigarettes

Smoking is a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Smoking is also a habit that gradually tightens its hold on the smoker and as a result, is not that easy to leave behind. Even so, suffering the anguish of SIDS and concern about future pregnancies and the effects of smoking on a baby, are compelling reasons to stop smoking.

It's Been Known For A Long Time

Maternal smoking has long been considered a link to increased risk of SIDS. A study completed in early 2008 further confirms the relationship between women who either smoke during their pregnancy, or are exposed to second-hand smoke, and the increased risk of SIDS to their babies. Passive smoke exposure (second-hand smoke) will increase the risk of SIDS two-fold and active smoking increases that risk about three-fold.

Some of the well-known effects on infants born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy include lower birth weight, significantly more episodes of obstructive apnea (inability to breathe properly) and excessive sweating. The mechanism which enables a baby to respond to oxygen deprivation after birth is compromised very dramatically by exposure, even light exposure, to nicotine in the womb.

Findings Of A Recent Study Reveal The Danger Of Nicotine

Josef Buttigieg, lead author of the study referred to, and a PhD graduate student in the department of Biology at McMaster University, says, "While cigarette smoke contains many different compounds, we found there is a direct impact of one component, nicotine, on the ability of certain cells to detect and respond to oxygen deprivation." He continued, "When a baby is lying face down in bed, for example, it should sense a reduction in oxygen and move its head. But this arousal mechanism doesn't work as it should in babies exposed to nicotine during pregnancy."

Nicotine affects the ability of the adrenal glands to release a group of hormones called catecholamines, which play a significant role in a baby's transition from the womb to the outside world. These hormones are initially released during the birth process, when oxygen is low, and signal the baby's lungs to reabsorb fluid, to take in the first breath and they also help the heart to function more efficiently. They continue to be a critical factor in the adaptation to life outside the womb by acting as an oxygen sensor, aiding in arousal and breathing responses during periods of apnea or asphyxia. Nicotine exposure impairs the ability of catecholamines to do their job.

Why Risk Your Baby's Life?

"At birth, the nervous control of the adrenal gland is not active and so a baby relies on these direct oxygen sensing mechanisms to release catecholamines," says Colin Nurse, who was the academic advisor of the study and a professor in the department of Biology. "But nicotine causes premature loss of these mechanisms, which would normally occur later in development after nervous control is established. Thus, the infant becomes much more vulnerable to SIDS."

No mother would knowingly risk her baby's life, yet women who smoke during and after their pregnancies increase the risk of SIDS and the horrible pain of losing a child.