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Smoking During Pregnancy Damages Babies’ Lungs

Smoking During Pregnancy Damages Babies’ Lungs

Smoking during pregnancy can alter the development of airway and lung structure in unborn babies, a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine says.

The study found that babies exposed to cigarette smoke in utero were more likely to be born with poorly supported airways. This could lead to abnormal lung function and may explain increases in conditions such as asthma and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) among babies and children of smoking mothers.

Wellington Hospital Respiratory Physician Dr Peter Martin says it’s long been recognised that smoking during pregnancy is harmful for babies, but this report sheds light on the reasons why this may be the case.

“Smoking during pregnancy alters the development of unborn babies’ lungs so that the bronchial tubes are less well supported than those in babies who are not exposed to cigarette smoke in the womb. It comes as no surprise that these babies find it harder to breath after they’re born, and are more likely to suffer from conditions such as asthma and SIDS.”

Director of Education for Change Stephanie Cowan helps co-ordinate Smokechange programmes that offer step-by-step support for pregnant women trying to stop smoking. She says that recent publicity about second-hand smoke has raised people’s awareness of its harm, but overshadowed the issues surrounding smoking during pregnancy itself.

“Smoking during pregnancy actually exposes the foetus to first-hand and second-hand smoke – it’s a double whammy. People seem to know that smoking is not good in pregnancy, but they do not always understand why. They may know it can make your baby smaller but they cannot make sense of the link - that because you smoke, your baby gets less blood, less food and less oxygen. The baby has to compensate to find ways to cope, and this compensation makes it more vulnerable after it’s born.”

Ms Cowan says that there is lots of support available in New Zealand for pregnant women concerned about smoking.

“You can ask your midwife for help, contact Smokechange ( or call Quitline on 0800 778 778. Becoming smokefree is the best thing a women can to do for her pregnancy, and every step towards that makes a difference.”

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