Clearing the Air for Your Baby
Your baby’s body is more active than most adult bodies. Not only does your baby’s body need to support basic life functions, but it is still going through rapid growth and development. Organs like the brain, heart and lungs are changing in ways that will affect the rest of your baby’s life. So it is important for your baby to get the things she needs for healthy development. One of the most important things is oxygen.
The lungs pull oxygen from the air and into the blood. With healthy lungs and clear air, we can take in a lot of oxygen with every breath. But when the lungs are infected or damaged or the air is contaminated, the amount of oxygen available is limited. Secondhand smoke is one of the worst culprits for bad air and damaged lungs.
Secondhand smoke is a combination of smoke exhaled from a smoker and the smoke from a burning tip of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe. It is made up hundreds of hazardous chemicals. These chemicals irritate the lining of the lungs, cause damage to tissue, and alter lung functions.
Secondhand smoke is harmful for everybody, but is more destructive on the developing lungs and body of a baby. Also, babies inhale more smoke because they breathe at faster rates than adults. As adults we are able to move away if the air is irritating. Babies of course are not able to move away from smoky areas on their own.
Even small amounts of secondhand smoke can hamper breathing by affecting different parts of your baby’s lungs:
Bronchioles and bronchi—tubes that allow oxygen to travel from the mouth into the lungs
- The chemicals in the smoke can cause irritation, swelling, and inflammation in these tubes. This can greatly reduce the size of the path for air, much like breathing through a straw.
Alveoli—tiny air sacs at the tip of the lungs that pass oxygen from the lungs to the blood
- Alveoli continue to develop after birth to help with oxygen exchange in the lungs. Secondhand smoke exposure affects alveoli development. Reducing the amount of oxygen to the body increases the risk of infection.
Surfactant—fluid that lines the inside of the lungs, making it easier for the lungs to expand and pass oxygen to the blood
- Surfactant continues to be produced after birth to keep the lungs expanded. Exposing your baby to secondhand smoke interferes with this development, and may prevent your baby’s lungs from making the right amount of surfactant. Low amounts can affect the ability for your baby’s lungs to expand and contract properly.
For babies that already have lung problems, these effects can be even more dramatic. This can include babies recovering from previous infections or premature babies with underdeveloped lungs. Secondhand smoke has also been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and a higher chance of ear infections.
Whether or not you quit smoking, it is very important not to expose your baby to secondhand smoke. Clear the air for your baby. Doing so will help your baby develop properly, significantly decrease the number of colds and infections, and avoid serious lung issues. A healthy baby also tends to be a happy baby, and that is good for everyone too.
Last reviewedSeptember 2013by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.