Secondhand smoke and your baby

October 20, 2021

October is SIDS Awareness Month. Although medical experts aren’t sure what causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), there are some things you can do to help protect your baby from SIDS.

What is SIDS?

SIDS (also called crib death) is the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year old. It usually happens when a baby is sleeping. It is the leading cause of death in healthy babies.

There’s not one single thing that causes a baby to die from SIDS, but there are risk factors that can increase a baby’s risk. Most SIDS deaths happen in babies 2 to 4 months old, mostly during colder weather. Black and Native American babies are more likely to die of SIDS than White babies, and it happens more often to boys than girls. Experts believe these differences are driven by health disparities. Health disparities are differences in health outcomes for different groups of people. These differences are connected to social, economic and environmental factors that can contribute to a person’s health problems throughout their life. Health disparities can affect your health, your baby’s health and the care you both get. The places where you work, live and play can affect your health.

The Link Between Secondhand Smoke and SIDS

Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke from the lit end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds of toxic chemicals. About 70 of those chemicals can cause cancer.

Experts think that the chemicals in secondhand smoke affect babies’ brains and their breathing. Because their bodies are still developing, babies and young children are even more at risk to the poisons in secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke causes many health problems in babies and children, such as:

  • More frequent and severe asthma attacks
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Ear infections
  • SIDS

Research shows that:

  • Babies who die from SIDS have higher concentrations of the drug nicotine in their lungs and higher levels of cotinine (a chemical in tobacco products) than babies who die from other causes.
  • Babies of moms who smoked during pregnancy are more at risk for SIDS than those babies whose moms were smoke-free.
  • Being exposed to secondhand smoke raises a baby’s risk for SIDS.
  • The risk of SIDS increases even more if a parent who smokes shares a bed with a baby.

Preventing SIDS

One of the most important ways to prevent SIDS is to make sure that your baby sleeps safely. Other tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics include:

  • Not smoking while pregnant
  • Not smoking around your baby and not allowing others to smoke near your baby
  • Not drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs while pregnant
  • Breastfeeding your baby
  • Visiting your baby’s health care provider for regular checkups
  • Offering your baby a pacifier at nap time and bedtime. If you are breastfeeding your baby, you may want to wait to use a pacifier until after your baby breastfeeds easily.

The best way to create a healthy environment for baby is to quit smoking. If you need help quitting, tell your health care provider or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). Sometimes people must try many times before they successfully quit smoking. That’s OK. Keep trying! You’re doing what’s best for you and your baby.