My office is on the 13th floor of Roanoke Memorial Hospital. I take the elevator that stops directly in front of the Labor and Delivery unit. Usually a happy place, this is where babies are born. It is also where mothers are admitted if they are in premature labor, placed on drugs to stop the contractions, and gain some time for the infant to mature before birth.
I often see mothers with their medication bottles hooked up via intravenous lines, sitting in wheelchairs being accompanied by a friend or relative bringing them to the lobby, on route to the small clearing across the street from the hospital where smoking is allowed. It has always bothered me to witness this picture, as cigarette smoke is harmful in many ways to the fetus and the newborn. Smoking can actually LEAD TO premature delivery, so it blows my mind to think that these women can be in the hospital to stop their labor, while continuing to smoke, and thus working against the point of the medication infusion. Smoking can cause babies to be born with low birth weight, and may lead to other problems as well.
In_utero_smoke_exposure has been shown to increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrom (SIDS--also known as crib death).
It likely does this by causing problems with the baby's respiratory pattern, arousal responses and breathing response to stimuli. According to the article that you can access by clicking the link above, infants born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy have a two to five times higher chance of SIDS than other babies.
Of all the nasty things that enter your body from smoking, nicotine is most likely (based on some animal studies) the chemical that causes the most harm to the baby's control-of-breathing center in the brain stem.
This makes it harder for the nicotine-exposed fetus to arouse himself when his breathing slows or stops, or to "auto resuscitate" when breathing has stopped, leading to severe slowing or stopping of the heart.
It is inconceivable to me that a parent could continue to smoke, knowing that the risks of having a baby die suddenly in their sleep is going to be so much higher than that of a baby born to a non-smoking mother.
If I ruled the world, I would probably want to make smoking during pregnancy illegal, but I know that is unlikely to happen.
Nonetheless, I will feel even more compelled, armed with this additional knowledge, to encourage every pregnant woman I see to stop smoking for the sake of the baby, if not for her own sake. Please join me in getting the word out that smoking during pregnancy is REALLY BAD for the baby, and encourage every woman you know or you see for the first time who is pregnant and who smokes, TO STOP.