Smoking and Birth Defects

Research Continues To Prove The Dangers Of Smoking

All doubts have been erased over the years as research has proven over and over again that smoking during pregnancy can harm the development of your baby. The list of the ensuing problems and harm caused by cigarette smoking grows longer with every study. Mothers who smoke are more prone to miscarriage and stillbirth. Damage to the placenta and low birth weight are common difficulties for babies conceived and carried by smokers, as is an increased incidence of sudden infant death syndrome. Passive smoke (second-hand smoke) can be equally damaging for your unborn baby.

Babies Born To Smokers Are At Higher Risk Of Birth Defects

On top of these commonly understood issues which may result from smoking during pregnancy, there are other serious considerations. Babies born to parents who smoke have a higher risk of being born with some kind of birth defect. Birth defects are physical abnormalities or defects which are present at the time of the baby's birth. Many common birth defects include: cleft lip and palate, clubfoot, limb defects, congenital heart defects, Down's syndrome, gastroschisis and imperforate anus. This list is not complete; it simply highlights the most common birth defects.

Tobacco smoke contains carbon monoxide and nicotine, as well as hundreds of other chemicals which have been shown to be dangerous to human beings. When released, they interfere with and lower the oxygen which should be delivered to the developing baby. If cells are deprived of oxygen, they are unable to grow and multiply normally. When this happens, birth defects may occur.

Oral Clefts and Congenital Heart Defects Top The List

Many studies have shown that one of the most common birth defects in babies born to smokers is cleft lip and palate, which is the malformation of the upper lip and roof of the mouth. Women who smoke during pregnancy are at a 1.5 to 2-times greater risk of having babies with oral clefts than those who do not smoke. This risk increases if both parents are smokers.

Because the unborn baby is exposed to a high number of toxins if the mother smokes, there is an increased risk for congenital heart defects. These can occur even before a woman knows she's pregnant since the heart's basic structures develop very early in the pregnancy. A fetus is exposed to harmful toxins at conception, which means that even if a woman quits smoking early in her pregnancy, the damage may have already been done to the baby.

A very common birth defect, congenital heart defects affect nearly eight to 10 of every 1,000 live births, according to The Center for Disease Control. Many infants with congenital heart defects do not live through their first year. Of those who do, many require several serious surgeries and face life-long treatment for disabilities related to the defect and surgeries.

It Begins Before Conception

A study done at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Arkansas showed that women who smoked any time during the month before conception through the end of the first trimester were more likely to give birth to babies with heart defects than women who did not smoke.

Women who smoke during pregnancy not only put themselves at risk, but they also put their unborn child at risk for major health problems.