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Expecting parents: Beware of secondhand smoke, too

Expecting parents who smoke are putting their baby’s health at risk – and not just if they’re the pregnant partner.

A new study found that for pregnant parents, both smoking and secondhand smoke could increase the risk of heart defects in their children. In fact, exposure to secondhand smoke could do even more damage.

“Fathers-to-be should quit smoking,” study author Dr. Jiabi Qin of Central South University in China said in a press release. “Fathers are a large source of secondhand smoke for pregnant women, which appears to be even more harmful to unborn children than women smoking themselves.”

Eight in 1,000 babies worldwide are born with congenital heart defects. While new surgical techniques can allow these babies to enjoy quality of life and improve their prognosis, treatment can also be terrifying for families – and in some counties, very expensive. Heart defects are also the leading cause of stillbirth, bringing heartbreak to expecting parents.

“Smoking is teratogenic, meaning it can cause developmental malformations. The association between prospective parents smoking and the risk of congenital heart defects has attracted more and more attention with the increasing number of smokers of childbearing age,” Qin said.

Qin’s study is among the first meta-analyses to focus on smoking habits of both expecting parents and the effects of secondhand smoke, not just on the pregnant partner’s smoking. He and his team examined about 125 studies leading up to June 2018; those studies examined more than 130,000 babies.

They found that any smoking by expecting parents raised the risk of heart defects in infants. However, when the pregnant partner smoked, the risk went up 25 percent; when they “passively” smoked – that is, inhaled secondhand smoke regularly – the risk went up 124 percent.

“Women should stop smoking before trying to become pregnant to ensure they are smoke-free when they conceive,” Qin said. “Staying away from people who are smoking is also important. Employers can help by ensuring that workplaces are smoke-free. Doctors and primary health care professionals need to do more to publicize and educate prospective parents about the potential hazards of smoking for their unborn child.”

The research analysis has been published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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