Recently, I came across several news articles regarding risks that can lead to birth defects. While it has long been known that smoking during pregnancy is not healthy for the mom or her developing baby, a new study is showing that a mom who smokes during pregnancy creates a huge risk of heart defects in her baby. A Reuters article explains that the potential for harm caused by smoking during the first trimester of pregnancy, a time when many women may not even realize they are pregnant, is significant:
Specifically, women who smoked early in pregnancy were 30 percent more likely to give birth to babies with obstructions in the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs, and nearly 40 percent more likely to have babies with openings in the upper chambers of their hearts.
While smoking later in pregnancy can also cause birth defects, it is the critical period in early pregnancy when organ development occurs that causes the risk to be so significant at that time.
The Reuters article goes on to explain that the new study, in the journal Pediatrics, does not explain precisely why smoking so dramatically increases the risk of heart defects. However, given the risk, women not smoking before or during early pregnancy could decrease the number of children born with these defects.
A news release from the CDC adds that this study and other research suggest that if women quit smoking before or very early in pregnancy, they could avoid as many as 100 cases of the obstruction type of heart defect and 700 cases of abnormal openings in the upper heart chambers each year in the United States.
This is yet another great reason for woman to quit smoking as soon as possible and certainly before trying to get pregnant.
Secondhand Smoke Risks to Your Baby
We cannot let spouses, partners or other people in the mothers’ lives off the hook when it comes to smoking cessation. A blog article on The Chart from CNN discusses a new study, also from the journal Pediatrics, which gives a convincing argument why woman must avoid secondhand smoke during and even before pregnancy. The “[r]esearchers found exposure to secondhand smoke increased a non-smoking pregnant woman’s [chances] of having a stillborn by 23 percent, and increased the risk of delivering a baby with birth defects by 13 percent.” The article went on to explain that the risk of having a stillborn or delivering a baby with birth defects is almost as large for a woman who does not smoke but is exposed to secondhand smoke as for a woman who smoked herself. The risks of having a stillborn are increased 20-34% when the mother herself is the smoker and the risks of birth defects are increased by 10-34%.
Aren’t these compelling reasons to continue to work hard as a society on prevention and smoking cessation for the young? It is too late to wait until child-bearing age when women may already be causing unnecessary harm to their unborn children before they know they are pregnant or by sharing their lives with individuals, who are not able to quit smoking fast enough to prevent harm before conception or during early pregnancy.