Protecting Infants and Children from Secondhand Smoke
As a parent, you want to protect your children from all things considered harmful to their health. With all of the other things you have to worry about, you may not have considered how harmful secondhand smoke can be to your new child. Infants and young children exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk for a number of health problems.
Asthma: Asthma is a common problem in infants and children. The most common symptoms include episodes of coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing, although some children just have coughing and don't wheeze with each episode. Smoking in the home during the first few years of a child's life also increases the risk of developing asthma. Also, smoke is known to trigger attacks in people who already have asthma.
Although it is not known what causes asthma, children with asthma have attacks triggered by things like fumes and smoke. Therefore, children who live with a smoker are at higher risk for these health problems.
Children with asthma who live in smoke-filled homes have more asthma attacks, need more medications and go to the emergency room more than other asthma patients their age. Secondhand smoke may also cause healthy children to develop asthma. These children are also at increased risk for bronchitis and pneumonia, which can lead to hospitalization. Infants exposed to secondhand smoke are also known to develop more lung and middle ear infections.
Pneumonia: Infants whose are exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to be hospitalized for pneumonia during their first year of life than babies who live in non-smoking households. Smoking is also linked to infections of the lower respiratory tract (the lungs and lower airways) in infants under 18 months, which can require hospitalization. Exposure to secondhand smoke also increases the child's risk for developing lung cancer in the future.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): Babies who are exposed to cigarette smoke after birth face an increased risk of death. The incidence of sudden infant death syndrome quadruples if either parents are smokers.
All of these risks are higher if the baby is breast-fed by a smoking mother rather than just exposed to smoke in the household. Nicotine gets into the breast milk of a smoking mother. Nicotine can decrease the quantity of milk as well as affect the breast milk's quality and the ease of feeding. In addition, babies exposed to tobacco through breast milk have higher levels of nicotine wastes in the urine than babies only exposed to secondhand smoke.
As a parent, you can limit your child's exposure to secondhand smoke. As always, the first and most important steps should begin at home-by quitting smoking yourself, if you are a smoker. Quitting is seldom easy, but it is possible. Smoking-cessation counseling programs and Nicotine Replacement Therapy are available. Talk with your personal care physician (PCP) about your options.
When you make the choice not to smoke around your baby, the same rule should apply to everyone else around your child. Ask friends and family members not to smoke in the presence of your children. Also, make sure you are aware of the smoking status of all childcare providers. Remember that children exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk for illness. Protect your children from secondhand smoke; their health depends on it.