Second hand smoke: Will it harm your baby-to-be?

I am a pregnant non-smoker, but in my working environment my boss smokes constantly. We work in the same room and I am afraid that the smoke I inhale will affect my unborn baby. Will second hand smoke harm my baby-to-be?

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Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

You are right to be concerned about this issue. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke raises a non-smoker's risk of developing lung cancer by at least 15 percent. The American Heart Association says non-smokers exposed to second hand smoke have a 30 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease and are at increased risk of asthmatic attacks and emphysema.

We have firm evidence that the use of tobacco products by adults (environmental tobacco smoke) increases childhood mortality and morbidity; otitis media, tympanostomy, tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, asthma, coughs, lower respiratory tract illness, hospitalisations, and deaths. The studies linking second hand smoke to pregnancy problems show mixed results.

A study, released at a 1996 meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington, says the compounds associated with second hand smoke can cause genetic damage and may be a prelude to childhood leukemia and other cancers.

The study suggests that cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke pass from mother to unborn baby, whether the mother smokes or not.

Pregnant women exposed to the secondhand smoke of co-workers or family members pass some of the blood-borne chemicals to their unborn babies, though babies of smokers have much higher levels of the chemicals.

Researchers at the University of Louisville studied 410 pregnant women, measuring levels of three tobacco carcinogens in the mothers and their newborns -- benzo(a)pyrene, which causes lung and skin cancer; 4-aminobiphenyl, which causes bladder cancer; and acrylonitrile, which causes liver cancer.

All three substances attach themselves to hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying protein in red blood cells. The carcinogens continue to circulate through the babies' blood for the life of the red cells, about four months.

The study found that levels of the three chemicals were four to five times higher in the passive smokers' babies than in the non-smokers' infants and they were 10 to 20 times higher in the cigarette smokers' babies.

You certainly deserve a work environment which is free from smoke. Public policy has been written which supports this. I would recommend that you contact your state department of health for guidelines which may be in place in your community. OSHA publishes guidelines on this topic as well. I suppose if you're not covered by a union and you don't have an OSHA representative at your place of work, your best option is to talk to your boss, provide him with some literature or Websites that explain the risks, and hope that he listens.

Check out the link below and bookmark them for your boss. If he is not supportive, I wonder if some accomodation can be made with air purifiers or moving you to a window.

Making Your Home Smoke-Free

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