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Passive smoking risk to unborn child

passive smoking Increased risk of stillbirth and birth defects

Passive smoking significantly increases the risk of delivering a stillborn baby, a UK study has found.

The study also found it increases the risk of delivering a baby with birth defects.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham found that passive smoking increased the risk of still birth by nearly 23 per cent, and of having a baby with birth defects by 13 per cent.

The researchers say fathers who smoke should be made aware of the danger they pose to their unborn child and as it is currently unclear when the effects of the second-hand smoke start, it is important to protect women from passive smoking both before and during pregnancy.

Dr Jo Leonardi-Bee, at the University's Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, said: “Mothers’ smoking during pregnancy is well-recognised as carrying a range of serious health risks for the unborn baby including fetal mortality, low birth weight, premature birth and a range of serious birth defects such as cleft palate, club foot and heart problems.

“Since passive smoking involves exposure to the same range of tobacco toxins experienced by active smokers, albeit at lower levels, it is likely that coming into contact with second-hand smoke also increases the risk of some of all of these complications.”

The researchers reached the conclusion after analysing data from 19 studies carried out in North America, South America, Asia and Europe which focussed on pregnant women exposed to second-hand smoke either at home or in the workplace. None of the women themselves smoked.

The study did not find an increased risk of miscarriage or newborn death from second-hand smoke, but did find an increased risk of stillbirth and congenital birth defects. The findings did not link passive smoking to any specific birth defect.

“What we still don’t know is whether it is the effect of side-stream smoke that the woman inhales that increases these particular risks or whether it is the direct effect of mainstream smoke that the father inhales during smoking that affects sperm development, or possibly both.

"More research is needed into this issue although we already know that smoking does have an impact on sperm development, so it is very important that men quit smoking before trying for a baby.

“The risks are related to the amount of cigarettes that are smoked — the data suggests that being exposed to around 10+ cigarettes a day is enough for the risks to be increased so it is therefore very important for men to cut down.

"Ultimately though, in the interests of their partner and their unborn child the best option of course would be to give up completely,” Dr Leonardi-Bee said.

This article was published on Mon 14 March 2011

Image © EastWest Imaging - Fotolia.com

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