Cite this article

NIDA. (2016, June 14). Pregnancy and Drugs: Update (Part 1 – Smoking and Vaping). Retrieved from

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The NIDA Blog Team
June 14 2016
Photo of a pregnant woman breaking a cigarette

This is the first part of an update to the post, “Using Drugs When Pregnant Harms the Baby.”

Back in 2013 on the Drugs & Health Blog, we noted plenty of reasons that pregnant women should avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, or using other drugs to protect the health of their unborn baby. For example, we already know drug use while pregnant can lead to a premature or small infant, and the baby could have problems growing or developing normally or other. Since then, researchers have found even more reasons. Here are some of them.

Smoking tobacco affects the baby’s health

Let’s start with tobacco smoking. A new study links a pregnant woman’s smoking to differences in her baby’s DNA. DNA is a molecule that contains most of the genetic “instruction manual” for how a person’s body will grow and develop. Smoking causes DNA alterations related to development of a baby’s lungs and nervous system, smoking-related cancers, and birth defects such as cleft lip and palate.

In a separate study, pregnant women who smoked had children who aged more quickly—for instance, they developed heart disease at an earlier stage of life than children of women who didn’t smoke while pregnant. This happens because smoking reduces oxygen levels in the mother’s womb—oxygen the baby needs in order to develop healthy organs.

There’s more. Researchers discovered that when mothers-to-be smoke heavily, their babies may have a much higher risk for developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as adults. COPD affects a person’s lungs and can cause a variety of breathing-related problems.

Vaping also harms the baby

Many expectant mothers may know about the dangers of smoking for their unborn child, but believe that smoking e-cigarettes while pregnant is okay. However, vaping can also be harmful to a baby. E-cigs have been found to contain many of the same toxic ingredients as tobacco smoke.

A recent study in mice found that e-cigarette vapors can damage an unborn child’s nervous system, and can result in the child having learning and memory problems. When the researchers looked at the brains of the baby mice whose mothers were exposed to e-cigarette vapor, they also saw brain alterations that are associated with mental health problems, like schizophrenia.

Quitting for two

If you’re pregnant or think you may be pregnant, and you smoke, you can find a lot of resources to help you quit (including a live chat with an information specialist). It could be the best thing you ever do for your baby’s health—and for your own.

Next week: the latest on how using marijuana, prescription pain relievers (opioids) and other drugs while pregnant affects a baby.