Although tobacco is a much less toxic drug as far as adults are concerned, it can be just as lethal and debilitating to the fetus as the more hardcore drugs. Tobacco use during pregnancy is associated with preterm birth, small size for gestational age, and low birth weight. (Andres & Day, 2000; Shah & Bracken, 2000; Mitchell et al., 2002) Tobacco use also contributes to the occurrence of spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, fetal death and SIDS. (Mathews & MacDorman, 2007; Salihu et al., 2007; Piatt et al., 2004)
In fact, smoking is the leading cause of preventable pregnancy complications. It’s responsible for 20 percent of babies born with a low birth weight, and 8 percent of pre-term deliveries. (Szabo, 7-28-08) Maternal tobacco use also causes approximately 5 percent of infant deaths in the United States. (Salihu et al., 2003) But it’s not just mother who can cause these problems for baby. There is also a correlation between birth problems and secondhand smoke. (Windham et al., 2000) So anyone who smokes in the household of a woman who is pregnant can put the fetus at risk.
Smoking during pregnancy & future child behavioral problems
Smoking during pregnancy has also been linked to more subtle behavioral changes that emerge over time. Heavy smoking (10 or more cigarettes a day) by the mother during pregnancy is associated with future aggression in children, according to a study of 1,745 kids born in Quebec. Scientists believe that smoking perturbs development in the fetal brain, leading to problems later. (Tremblay, 2008)
Nicotine smoke & fetal brain development
It’s known that nicotine smoke suppresses neurogenesis (the process whereby new neurons are created in the brain), and thus can lead to cognitive delays in children. (Shars, 2009) There’s every reason to believe it impacts the fetal brain in much the same way.
How many women smoke during pregnancy?
Recent surveys have found that 13.9% of pregnant women smoke cigarette’s to a degree that would be classified as substance abuse (Berman, 6-1-2009), meaning it’s a habit as opposed to the occasional puff. Equally concerning, however, is exposure to secondhand or third-hand smoke, which can be just as toxic as direct exposure. (Painter, 3-16-2009; NBC Nightly News, 2-142009) The Surgeon General reports that 60% of children ages 3 to 11 are exposed to secondhand smoke of some type, and the CDC estimates around 3 million children under the age of six breathe in secondhand smoke at home. (Szabo, 7-28-2008) If similar rates of exposure occur among pregnant women, this represents a significant threat to fetal development.