Electronic cigarettes and “vaping” have been widely touted as being a safer choice than smoking regular cigarettes and even as a way to help a smoker stop smoking. The fact is that these devices still put nicotine into your body and are not a good choice for a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding.
Exactly what is an e-cigarette?
An e-cigarette is basically a nicotine delivery device. Some look like regular cigarettes and some look more futuristic. They contain a battery and a cartridge filled with a liquid that contains nicotine along with flavorings and chemicals like glycerin or polyethylene glycol.1 The liquid is heated up inside the e-cigarette and becomes a vapor that you inhale. Hence, the term “vaping.”
A regular cigarette delivers the nicotine to your lungs by burning tobacco, which creates smoke that you inhale. Tobacco smoke contains hundreds of toxic chemicals. Vapor from an e-cigarette contains nicotine—which has serious implications in pregnancy that we will get to in a second—and may also contain traces of chemicals such as chromium and nickel that can harm a developing fetus.2
The liquids used in e-cigarettes are not well regulated. Many contain flavoring agents or other chemicals. There have been no studies of the safety of inhaling these vapors in anyone, let alone in pregnant women.
Misunderstandings about safety
A recent study found that many pregnant women have serious misconceptions about e-cigarettes. Forty-three percent of the pregnant women surveyed thought that e-cigarettes and vaping were safer than regular cigarettes. Only 57% said they believed that e-cigarettes contained nicotine and only 61% knew that they could be addictive.3
Among the women in the study, only 13% had used e-cigarettes, but of the ones who did, the most common reason given for using them was because they were thought to be safer than regular cigarettes.3
Nicotine, pregnancy, and your baby
The fact is that e-cigarettes still put nicotine into your body and into your baby. There is no “safe” level of nicotine exposure in pregnancy. Exposure to nicotine before birth has been linked to altered brain structure and function in babies.4 Tobacco products used during pregnancy have been associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, some birth defects, and sudden infant death syndrome. Nicotine, either from regular or electronic cigarettes also shows up in your breast milk.
In a perfect world, no pregnant woman would be a smoker. We don’t live in that perfect world and in the real world many women who smoke become pregnant. Ideally, a pregnant woman who smokes should stop smoking (either regular or e-cigarettes) immediately. If you smoke and are pregnant, talk to your doctor or midwife about your smoking. You should also talk with your healthcare provider if you are thinking of switching to e-cigarettes as a way to help you stop or cut down on smoking.
What are your thoughts on this?
- Wagstaff K. Vaping 101: How do e-cigarettes work?
- Reinberg S. Many pregnant women think e-cigs safer. WebMD.com.
- Mark KS, Farquhar B, Chisolm MS, et al. Knowledge, attitudes, and practice of electronic cigarette use among pregnant women. Addict Med. 2015 Jul-Aug;9(4):266-72.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco use and pregnancy.