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Smoking and Pregnancy— What Are the Risks?

Pregnant Woman with belly exposed.

In the United States, it is estimated that about 16 percent of pregnant women smoke during their pregnancies. Carbon monoxide and nicotine from tobacco smoke may interfere with the oxygen supply to the fetus. Nicotine also readily crosses the placenta, and concentrations in the fetus can be as much as 15 percent higher than maternal levels. Nicotine concentrates in fetal blood, amniotic fluid, and breast milk. Combined, these factors can have severe consequences for the fetuses and infants of smoking mothers. Smoking during pregnancy caused an estimated 910 infant deaths annually from 1997 through 2001, and neonatal care costs related to smoking are estimated to be more than $350 million per year.

The adverse effects of smoking during pregnancy can include fetal growth retardation and decreased birthweight. The decreased birthweights seen in infants of mothers who smoke reflect a dose-dependent relationship—the more the woman smokes during pregnancy, the greater the reduction of infant birthweight. These newborns also display signs of stress and drug withdrawal consistent with what has been reported in infants exposed to other drugs. In some cases, smoking during pregnancy may be associated with spontaneous abortions and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as learning and behavioral problems and an increased risk of obesity in children. In addition, smoking more than one pack a day during pregnancy nearly doubles the risk that the affected child will become addicted to tobacco if that child starts smoking.

This page was last updated July 2012

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NIDA. (2012, July 1). Tobacco/Nicotine. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/tobacconicotine

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This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.

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