Smoking While Pregnant Still Common

By Amir Khan on May 10, 2012 5:39 PM EDT

Smoking
The news that secondhand smoke is dangerous is nothing new, but now, a new study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, details just how deadly it is. Researchers found that secondhand smoke kills 42,000 nonsmokers every year -- including 900 infants. (Photo: Reuters)

Smoking while pregnant is still far too common, especially in white women, according to a study released by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Thursday. More than one in five white women, approximately 21 percent, admitted to smoking while pregnant, compared with only 14 percent of black women and 6.5 percent of Hispanics, researchers said.

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Smoking while pregnant can cause vaginal bleeding, stillbirth and a host of birth defects, such as cleft lip or palate. Babies born to smokers are also more likely to be born prematurely and be underweight. Smoking also raises the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Dr. Ari Brown, author of the book "Baby 411," told ABC News.

Researchers also looked into how often pregnant women drank alcohol, and found that approximately 12 percent of white and black women said they drank while pregnant, compared to only 7 percent of Hispanic women.

Heavy drinking during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that can cause lasting physical and mental problems.

"A mom who smokes has less circulating oxygen in her body and thus, so does her unborn baby," Brown wrote in the book, according to ABC News. "This is called fetal hypoxia. There is also less blood flow to the uterus and placenta, and therefore to the baby. Lastly, nicotine goes right through the placenta and circulates in the bloodstream of the fetus."

Smoking, drinking and using illegal drugs while pregnant needs to stop, researchers said. Using these substances opens the fetus to a host of health problems that can hinder them their entire life.

"When pregnant women use alcohol, tobacco, or illicit substances they are risking health problems for themselves and poor birth outcomes for their babies," Pamela S. Hyde, SAMHSA administrator, said in a statement. "Pregnant women of different races and ethnicities may have diverse patterns of substance abuse. It is essential that we use the findings from this report to develop better ways of getting this key message out to every segment of our community so that no woman or child is endangered by substance use and abuse."

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