The Jury is in on Smoking During Pregnancy

Smoking while pregnant causes serious birth defects

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The opinions keep flowing in. If a woman cares about the health of her newborn, she has no choice but to quit smoking. A comprehensive review dispels any remaining myth that smoking during pregnancy is harmless.

According to a recently published review of all qualified studies over the past 50 years, there is no possible justification for smoking while pregnant. Maternal smoking can cause heart defects, missing or deformed limbs, gastrointestinal disorders, facial disorders and clubfoot in the fetus.

"Quit smoking if you are pregnant."

Michael Katz, M.D., senior vice president for research and global programs of the March of Dimes, reports that smoking while pregnant is also a risk factor for premature birth. The March of Dimes implores women who are trying to conceive to quit smoking now because of the risk of premature birth, low birth weight and serious birth defects. Babies who are born prematurely or with a low birth weight are at risk for other serious health conditions like intellectual or learning disabilities and cerebral palsy. Also, smoking may make it more difficult to conceive and increases the risk of stillbirth.

Dr. Katz explains that cigarette smoke exposes the fetus to dangerous chemicals including carbon monoxide, tar and nicotine. These chemicals may cause the baby to receive inadequate oxygen, which can impede healthy development and growth.

Approximately 20 percent of women in the United States reported a smoking habit in 2009. Around the globe, about 250 million women use tobacco every day.

This number increases each year, according to data presented at the 2009 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Mumbai.

A team led by Allan Hackshaw, Cancer Research UK & UCL Cancer Trials Centre, University College London, reviewed 173,687 malformed babies and 11.7 million normally formed babies.

Besides jeopardizing unborn children's health, smoking can also cause pregnancy complications for the smoker including vaginal bleeding, placental abruption (a condition which causes the placenta to peel away), ectopic pregnancy and placenta previa (which causes the placenta to partially or fully cover the opening of the uterus).

Smoking is also causal in many cancers, heart disease, stroke, eye diseases that may lead to blindness and gum disease.

The review will be published online in Human Reproduction Update.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 13, 2011
Last Updated:
July 18, 2011