No doubt, you’ve seen posters and billboards explaining how smoking while pregnant places babies at risk. Once a baby is born, the issues with smoking around him or her do not go away. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, secondhand smoke causes tens of thousands of deaths each year. Every time your infant nestles close to a smoker, he or she is exposed to 4,000 chemicals, 50 of which are known to cause cancer. Here is how secondhand smoke affects your baby.

Impairs infants’ breathing

Until three or four months of age, babies do not develop the reflex necessary to breathe through their mouth. Since secondhand smoke can block nasal passages, it is especially dangerous for young infants. Even worse, filaments that keep the respiratory tract clear can become paralyzed by smoke. This means an infant exposed to secondhand smoke will likely have trouble getting enough oxygen, which leads to respiratory infections and an increased risk of SIDS.

Damages babies’ hearts

Multiple studies have proven that smoking around an infant can affect his or her heart rate. Researchers also discovered that high-density lipoproteins (HDL), more commonly known as “good cholesterol,” is lower in smokers’ children.

Decreases brain development

A baby’s brain develops at an amazingly fast pace as he or she discovers more about the world. Smoking around an infant can hinder his or her development. Just as a lack of oxygen due to secondhand smoke blocks the respiratory tract, it has also been shown to harm the brain, particularly the area that controls breathing. As a result, a baby’s risk of SIDS increases with exposure to smoke.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Smoking contributes to infant mortality. If you are a smoker but do not want your child to be exposed to harmful chemicals from cigarettes, visit our Resource Guide to find organizations with smoking cessation programs. No-cost smoking workshops may be available in your area.

Always speak with a medical provider if you have questions or concerns about your baby’s health and well-being.