Passive Smoking (Second Hand Smoking) during Pregnancy


Everyone knows that smoking during pregnancy is dangerous. But pregnant women may also get exposed to passive or second-hand smoking during pregnancy from friends, relatives or partners who smoke. Such type of incidental and secondary exposure to cigarette smoking can lead to probable complications in the pregnancy later on.


Second-hand smoking may expose you to about 4,000 harmful substances out of which many are thought to cause cancer. While you are not smoking yourself, toxins and chemicals can still enter your system from accidental inhalation of the tobacco smoke. In fact, passive smoking can place a pregnant woman at risk for a similar range of diseases as real smoking does including lung cancer.


What Is Passive Or Second-Hand Smoking?

Passive smoking is unintentional breathing in of smoke that gets permeated into the environment due to smoking by an “active” smoker. It occurs if you happen to be in the presence of someone who is smoking a cigarette, cigar or pipe. The tobacco smoke exhaled by the smoker gets infused into the environment and is involuntarily inhaled by persons especially nonsmokers present close by.

How Does Second Hand Smoking Affect Pregnancy?

Some of the likely effects of passive smoking during pregnancy can be:

1. Reduced Birth Weight: According to many studies, there is a connection between second-hand smoking and low birth weight. A pregnant woman exposed to passive smoking may give birth to a baby whose weight is lower than the expected normal weight. A baby with low birth weight is more susceptible to complications during pregnancy, at the time of delivery, and even after birth.

2. Birth Defects: Second-hand smoking can cause a new-born baby to be born with certain birth defects like eye problems, limb deficiencies, clubfoot, orofacial clefts, hearing defects and digestive issues. Exposure to chemicals like nicotine and carbon monoxide present in the tobacco smoke during pregnancy can decrease the blood circulation to the foetus thereby restricting the oxygen supply which is essential for the proper growth of the baby.

3. Premature Labour: Preterm delivery is the most common outcome of passive smoking. It can lead to problems like anaemia, hypertension, PROM (Premature Rupture of Membranes) among pregnant women exposed to tobacco smoke.

4. Miscarriage: Pregnant women exposed to passive smoking can also suffer from a miscarriage. Studies indicate that pregnant women whose partners smoke cigarettes are at a higher risk of a miscarriage than those who have non-smoking partners.

5. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): Another damaging effect of passive smoking during pregnancy can be the unexpected and unexplained death of a newborn baby within one year of his birth. This sudden death of a child is called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or crib death. Studies in this field have not been able to discover the reason for the sudden death despite detailed study of medical history and autopsy. SIDS generally happens while the baby is sleeping.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

6. Restricted Psychological Development: Passive smoking during pregnancy can be responsible for a baby being born with congenital disorders, intellectual abnormalities, and behavioural problems. Studies show that babies born to mothers exposed to passive smoking have shown poor results in tests on intelligence, visual capabilities, speech and language skills than babies of mothers who weren’t. The toxins in tobacco smoke can poorly affect the growth of brain cells, the nervous system and the immune system of the infant thereby making him more vulnerable to infections.

7. Chances Of Tobacco Misuse: According to research, babies of pregnant women who get exposed to passive smoking are more likely to get addicted to tobacco products later in life because of their early exposure to nicotine.

Third-Hand Smoke And Pregnancy

Pregnant women may get exposed to third-hand smoking unknowingly. Third-hand smoke refers to the left-over nicotine and other toxins that linger on various surfaces and clothing because of the tobacco smoke. This deposit is believed to react with other common inside impurities to produce a toxic mixture. Pregnant women may expose themselves to such toxins by coming in contact with contaminated furniture, rugs, curtains, walls, flooring or innocently inhaling the lingering gases from these polluted surfaces. The toxins may pass into the bloodstream of the pregnant women and get transferred to the foetus in the womb.

Third-hand smoke can stay on for months or even years. That is why avoiding getting exposed to third-hand smoke during pregnancy can be challenging particularly if you have a partner who smokes. But pregnant women must try and reduce their exposure to third-hand smoke because it can be harmful to the unborn child. Various studies reveal that third-hand smoke can poorly affect the lung development of the unborn baby and result in respiratory issues after birth.

So if a certain place smells of smoke, it is safe to assume that it has residual toxins of tobacco smoke. Hence, it is desirable to avoid it completely. Furthermore, if you are planning a baby or are pregnant and your partner smokes, it is wise to minimalize the risk of exposure to third-hand smoke by totally decontaminating your house. You can try to get rid of the toxic residual of tobacco smoke by the washing of all bedding and clothing, hard surfaces, and floors, walls and ceilings, carpets and curtains, and furniture.

What After Your Baby Is Born?

Pregnant women may often wonder if second-hand smoke can harm an unborn child. But studies show that 2nd hand smoke and pregnancy are linked. Second-hand smoke can have a lasting effect on the growth of the foetus and may result in complications even after birth like childhood asthma. Therefore, the connection between Passive smoking and pregnancy is undeniable.

It is important to consider Second-hand smoke and pregnancy first trimester as the immune system of the new-born baby is still immature and exposure to second-hand smoke during this period can be particularly damaging.

It is sensible to completely avoid any kind of exposure to passive smoking during pregnancy. In fact, after delivery, it is not advisable to expose even the newborn child to second-hand smoking to prevent any possible adverse health issues. Try and create a smoke-free home for the sake of your health and your baby. If your partner is considering quitting smoking and needs help, consult your doctor in this regard.