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You probably already know that smoking during pregnancy is a big no-no. But what about the smoke burning from your partner’s or friend’s cigarette? Is it really that harmful?

Although usually harder to control, second-hand smoke is almost as bad as smoking yourself. That’s bad news if your family smokes inside the home or if you’re constantly surrounded in a cloud of your friends’ smoke. However, there are a few changes that you can make that can decrease you and your baby’s risk.

In this post, we’re explaining why avoiding second-hand smoke should become as much of a lifestyle change as quitting yourself. We’ll also fill you in on what third-hand smoke is. Finally, we’ll end with a list of actionable steps you can take to protect yourself and the baby growing inside you.

Second-Hand Smoke vs. Smoking Yourself

Smoking tobacco during pregnancy puts your baby at a higher risk of a whole slew of problems. Babies born to smokers are more likely to have a low birth weight and be birthed preterm. Birth defects of the mouth and lip are also possible. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking also puts your baby at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). E-cigarettes containing nicotine can also be harmful. If you’re a smoker and haven’t quit already, here are some quick tips:

  • Let your doctor know you’re a smoker and work to develop a quitting plan with him or her
  • Get free support from coaches by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669)
  • Try free or paid phone apps
  • Find a habit to replace smoking with
  • Consider nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), including patches, lozenges, gums, etc.
  • Read 8 Tips You’ll Actually Use To Stop Smoking Before Pregnancy

When most smokers become pregnant, they are aware of the risk and take steps to quit to protect their baby. However, inhaling the cigarette smoke of friends and family is also something to avoid. Second-hand smoke is the smoke in the environment created by another person. If you’re not directly inhaling the substance, you may be wondering if it really has that much effect. The unfortunate truth is that second-hand smoke still has about 4,000 chemicals—50 of those cancer-causing. When we take a look at what some of these chemicals are, it becomes easier to understand how they’re so harmful, even when indirectly exposed:

  • Ammonia—The harsh chemical used to clean toilets and can cause death when mixed with bleach.
  • Formaldehyde— The chemical used to embalm deceased people in preparation for a funeral.
  • Benzo[a]pyrene— You’ve probably heard that cigarettes contain road tar; but more accurately, they contain benzo[a]pyrene, the potent chemical found in tar, gasoline and diesel exhaust.

Even if you’re not smoking yourself, the chances are pretty high that you’re also inhaling the smoke of anyone around you. Two-thirds of the smoke produced in an area can also be inhaled by people in that space. If you’re not a smoker, you may notice immediate effects such as an increased heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, your blood vessels can become constricted and you may experience less oxygen to your heart. If you live with or are frequently around someone who smokes in your space, you are at a higher risk of long-term effects. These can include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Breathing problems
  • Cancer

The Dangers of Second Hand Smoke During Pregnancy

We know that second-hand smoke is detrimental to our health, but how does it affect the baby growing inside your womb? Are the effects as bad as smoking yourself?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, breathing second-hand smoke during pregnancy puts your baby at a higher risk of:

  • Preterm birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Learning and behavioral issues into childhood
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (unexplained death while sleeping)

You probably noticed that this list is similar to the risks of smoking yourself. While first-hand smoke is worse, they have similar adverse effects. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), second-hand smoke is estimated to cause 600,000 deaths worldwide each year.

Third-Hand Smoke

While it’s likely you’ve heard of second-hand smoke before, you may be wondering how someone can inhale third-hand smoke. This occurs when an area or its contents seem to take on the cigarette smell. For example, residue can be left on rugs, clothing, furniture, etc. If you walk into a room and know someone’s a smoker, there’s likely tobacco residue.

So, how does this affect you if someone isn’t actively smoking? Toxins can still be inhaled or enter your system if you touch an item with residue on it. A 2017 study on rodents found that third-hand smoke can cause DNA damage. In baby mice, exposure caused significant changes to body weight and the immune system.

If you live with a smoker who smokes inside the home, your chance of third-hand smoke is the highest.

How to Minimize Second and Third-Hand Smoke Exposure

Minimizing second-hand smoke exposure may not always be the easiest task. If you can’t leave a space, it may be uncomfortable asking others to stop or smoke elsewhere. However, learning to decrease the risk will be important in the long run, too. If you’re a smoker yourself and you’re trying to quit, you’ll likely find it easier to reach goals when the temptation isn’t in front of you.

In addition, learning to mitigate smoking environments will be useful as your child grows. Since babies breathe faster, they inhale more smoke than you, putting them more at risk. Even as your child grows, their lungs are still developing and are extra sensitive to harmful chemicals. Children around smoke also are more likely to have colds, ear infections and tooth problems.

  • Make your home smoke-free— If your partner is a smoker, ask that they smoke outside. To avoid third-hand smoke, ask them to wear a separate sweater outside while they’re smoking and change back into a clean one indoors. When someone visits your home, don’t be shy in asking them to light up outside. If this makes you uncomfortable, mention that you’re thinking about the health of your baby.
  • Make your car smoke-free— Ask your partner and anyone else inside your vehicle to avoid smoking in it. Since it’s a small, closed space, it can make second-hand smoke worse. In addition, the residue can stick to the seats, making third-hand smoke possible.
  • Avoid smoky spaces— If your friends are gathering at someone’s home who smokes inside, considering catching up the next outing instead. Avoid designated smoking areas.
  • Get some fresh air— If you’re in a space where everyone is smoking and you can’t control it, consider going outside or moving into an area where people are smoking less.
  • Be assertive— If your friends and family are used to smoking around you without issue, lighting up away from you will need to become a new habit. If a friend starts smoking beside you, gently remind them that you need to have some space so you don’t breathe it in. While your friends don’t need to adopt your new lifestyle, they should respect it. If they can’t respect your baby’s health, you may want to consider hanging out with them less frequently.
  • Wash hands— If your partner or anyone around you smokes, make it a rule that they wash their hands before touching your baby.
  • Choose smoke-free establishments— If you’re dining out with friends, find smoke-free restaurants and avoid public indoor spaces, such as bars, that allow it. If you’re renting a hotel room, ask for a smoke-free room or, better yet, choose a hotel where it’s entirely prohibited.
  • Find non-smokers— This tip is especially important if you or your partner are trying to stop smoking. Avoiding smoke altogether becomes a lot easier when your friends don’t participate. While you don’t need to drop smoking friends, finding new friends can make hanging out less worrisome.

Bottom Line

Even if you’re not a smoker yourself, you and your baby’s health can still be negatively impacted. The effects of exposing your baby to first-hand and second-hand smoke are similar. Nicotine exposure can cause developmental issues and behavioral issues down the line. In some cases, it may contribute to SIDS. To avoid second-hand smoke, try to stay away from others while they’re smoking. To avoid third-hand smoke, keep living spaces and vehicles smoke-free.

Do you have a lot of smokers in your circle of family and friends? If so, comment on your tips for avoiding second-hand smoke below. If you have any pregnant friends, share this post to keep their baby healthy, too!

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