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The effect of nicotine on the fetus

Unfortunately, recently, we see more and more pregnant women with a cigarette in their hands, or husbands fumigating pregnant women. This is very dangerous, both for the fetus and for the health of the nation as a whole. After all, the harmful effect of nicotine on the fetus is not limited only to the biological activity of nicotine. The ingestion of a huge amount of cigarette combustion products contained in tobacco smoke during smoking is also important. Most of them are toxic, including teratogenic (causing malformations in the fetus).  

And, before talking about the effect of nicotine on the development of the fetus, it should be clarified that the fertile (possibility of conception) ability in women who smoke is reduced, compared to non-smoking potential mothers. So, in one of the Western studies it was found that this ability in women who smoke 20 cigarettes per day, is approximately 70% of the same group of nonsmokers.  

The effect of nicotine on fetal development

The most important factor in the formation of fetal pathologies is its hypoxia. Three main factors lead to it, these are: the presence of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood of a smoking woman, impaired uteroplacental blood flow due to vascular dystonia, placental insufficiency as a consequence of the pathology of trophism of the placenta.

Carboxyhemoglobin is a compound of carbon monoxide and hemoglobin. It forms very quickly, breaks down with difficulty, and is hard to remove. Almost always, minimal amounts are found in the blood of residents of megacities. But its content for a healthy body is clinically unnoticeable.

But in smokers (especially those living in the same megalopolises), the content of carboxyhemoglobin can approach critical, causing typical signs of poisoning: dizziness, nausea, fainting, mortality increases. This is due to the fact that even a small content of carbon monoxide converts hemoglobin (transport for oxygen) into carboxyhemoglobin, which “does not know how” to deliver oxygen to cells.

In these conditions, hypoxia is not long in coming – that is, a decrease in the level of oxygen in the body of a smoking mother and, as a consequence, a child. In this case, pathologies of the placenta and uteroplacental blood flow are formed, due to the vascular effect of nicotine.

The result of this is the formation of vasological disorders in the fetus: vascular stenosis, an increase in the speed of blood flow in the vessels of the umbilical cord (which reduces both oxygen supply and nutrition to the fetus). In the fetus, the frequency of respiratory movements, heart contractions, increases.

At the same time, fetal movements become more frequent, but at the same time periods of calm increase – the child either turns from lack of oxygen, then, tired, calms down for a long time, reducing the level of vital activity. All this affects the physical and mental development of the fetus, including the vascular and cardiac systems, and the brain.

Malformations caused by smoking

The question of whether smoking can be the cause of the development of fetal abnormalities remains open. An increased frequency of congenital deformities (in particular, “cleft lip” and “wolf palate” and their combinations) in children of mothers who smoke has been established, but the reason for this lies in nicotine or the components of tobacco smoke – it has not been clarified. However, the connection between deformities and smoking can be traced clearly.

Nicotine easily penetrates the placental barrier, accumulates in the amniotic fluid and placenta, causing fetal disturbances typical of the effect of nicotine on the smoker’s body.

First of all, this is the neurotoxic activity of nicotine, and as a result, its pathological effect on the fetal brain tissue. Chronic poisoning of the fetus with nicotine leads to an increase in the frequency of perinatal mortality – during pregnancy after 22 weeks and before the seventh day of the child’s life.

We can unequivocally say that low birth weight, vascular disorders, intrauterine hypoxia, dysfunctions of the brain and nervous system (tearfulness, moodiness, slight lag in physical and mental development, further decrease in mental and mnestic functions) in children are all the result of smoking mother.


Doctors and scientists believe that the complex of negative effects of nicotine on a pregnant woman and her fetus can be called “fetal tobacco syndrome”. Obstetricians and pediatricians, neuropathologists and cardiologists are in favor of the introduction of this concept .

At many pediatric and obstetric forums, presentations and reports of scientists and practitioners clearly prove: smoking of a mother many times increases the risk of having children with various pathologies, which can be expressed in both mild and very severe forms.

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