What are the risks of vaping while pregnant?

These are the effects it can have on your baby.
Written by
Lucinda Starr
Reviewed by
Last updated on
October 11, 2023
min read
What Are the Risks of Vaping While Pregnant? | Kin Fertility
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Smoking or vaping while pregnant can be really risky, not only for your health but also for the health of your baby. Although it can be difficult, smoking cessation at the early stages of pregnancy is the best way to ensure your baby has the best start to life.

We know that electronic cigarettes have skyrocketed in popularity, often pitched as a 'safer' or 'healthier' choice than tobacco cigarettes. But the truth is that e-cigarettes come with a stack of health risks, especially for pregnant women.

With so many misconceptions surrounding vaping being a safer alternative than regular cigarettes, we're diving into everything you need to know about vaping while pregnant, the effects it can have on your baby and the safest option out there to quit smoking while pregnant.

Let's start with the basics.

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes or electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that look like cigarettes, cigars, pens or memory sticks.

Instead of burning tobacco like you would smoking cigarettes, electronic cigarettes heat liquids to produce vapour that is exhaled. The liquids (often called vape juice) contain a mix of nicotine, artificial flavour and other chemicals.

Not all e-cigarettes or vape juices contain nicotine, however, it does not guarantee that all electronic cigarettes are nicotine-free. While the flavour of e-cigarettes might taste completely different to cigarette smoke, it still contains plenty of harmful ingredients.

Is vaping safer than smoking?

The best thing you can do for your health (particularly when pregnant) is to not smoke cigarettes or electronic cigarettes. However, e-cigarettes are often used by cigarette smokers as a way to quit smoking.

Tobacco smoking is currently accepted as having worse health effects due to harmful and toxic chemicals contained in tobacco products that aren't contained in e-cigarettes. This is because tobacco cigarettes deliver nicotine by burning tobacco smoke which causes smoking-related illnesses.

E-cigarette smoking, however, delivers nicotine by heating liquid which can reduce the degree of harm. But there is still a lot we don't know about the health impacts of using an e-cigarette. Because there hasn't been enough research into electronic nicotine delivery systems and their effects on your health, its widely advise that pregnant women steer clear of e-cigarettes and vaping during pregnancy.

Both cigarette smoking and e-cigarettes contain nicotine which is a highly addictive chemical that can increase blood pressure, and cause spikes in adrenaline which can increase your heart rate and risk of cardiovascular disease.

Nicotine consumption eventually does cause nicotine addiction and can also cause cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Plus, cigarette smoke and vaping products can increase the chance of nicotine exposure for your unborn baby, too.

Is it safe to vape while pregnant?

In short, vaping while pregnant isn't safe. Electronic cigarettes contain nicotine, which causes permanent damage to the baby's developing brain and other organs like the lungs [1].

Vaping while pregnant (even using e-cigarettes that don't contain nicotine) is still not safe as e-cigarette liquids contain other chemicals and flavours that aren't safe for the baby.

Many pregnant women who are cigarette users or e-cigarette users worry that going cold turkey will cause their babies to experience nicotine withdrawal [2]. However, withdrawal issues or foetal distress are not prevalent with smoking conventional cigarettes or an e-cigarette as it is with illicit drugs.

How can smoking and vaping affect your baby?

Smoking regular cigarettes or electronic cigarette use can expose your baby to various harmful chemicals and toxins as they are passed through the placenta into the foetus [3].

Smoking or vaping during pregnancy can increase the risk of [3]:

  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirths
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Premature birth defects
  • Low birth weight
  • Damage to the baby's heart and lung development.

Following the birth of the baby, there are various developmental and health risks when smoking and vaping during pregnancy including [3]:

  • 3 times higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Respiratory disorders like asthma
  • Middle ear disease
  • Increased risk of childhood cancers
  • High blood pressure
  • Allergies
  • Higher risk of obesity.

What about exposure to secondhand vaping smoke while pregnant?

Secondhand exposure to vaping while pregnant is not exactly the same as passive smoking cigarettes as there is no tobacco smoke involved. However, exposure to secondhand vaping could still be harmful towards your health due to the chemicals and toxins released when vaping.

According to researchers from the University of Southern California, exposure to secondhand vaping is considered healthier than traditional cigarettes, but they still release toxins to which you're exposed [4]. However, there is still a lot we don't know about how devices like electronic nicotine delivery systems work, especially when it comes to secondhand exposure.

While you don't need to be extremely concerned about secondhand exposure to e-cigarette smoking, it's probably best to stand away from anyone smoking both a traditional cigarette and an e-cigarette.

If your partner is vaping while you're pregnant, it's also best to encourage them to vape outside or head to another room if they are vaping around you. The more proactive you are about protecting the health of yourself and your baby, the better chance you'll have of a healthy and successful pregnancy.

Quitting smoking or vaping when pregnant

Smoking cessation (a.k.a. weaning yourself off cigarettes and vapes) either with traditional cigarettes or e-cigarettes can be really challenging for anyone, let alone while pregnant when there are a bunch of emotional and hormonal changes happening.

To give your baby a better and healthy life, it's best to quit smoking as early in the pregnancy as possible. The best way to quit smoking is of course to go cold turkey, however, often times this can be extremely difficult so there are other options out there.

Since prescription medications to quit smoking are not recommended for pregnant women, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is the best way to quit smoking or vaping while pregnant.

Nicotine replacement therapy is readily available to purchase at the pharmacy and comes in 2 categories [3]:

  • Steady response products: nicotine patches.
  • Quick response products: chewing gum, inhalers, tablets and lozenges.

Using nicotine replacement therapy is a lot safer than smoking or vaping especially while pregnant, however, it's advised that you speak to your doctor about the potential risks and benefits.

Quick-response nicotine replacement therapy such as chewing gum, mouth spray and lozenges are considered better options to use while pregnant [3]. This is because they provide a lower daily dose of nicotine in comparison to nicotine patches.

However, since nausea and sickness are common during pregnancy, some women prefer the patches. If you do decide to use patches to help you stop smoking or vaping during pregnancy, it's better to use daytime patches (not 24-hour patches) and remove them before going to bed.

It may also be helpful to speak to someone when quitting smoking or vaping while pregnant by calling Quitline to help you manage withdrawal symptoms and get some added support.

Smoking cessation is difficult, whether with the use of e-cigarettes or conventional cigarettes. But, smoking cessation in the early stages of pregnancy can give your baby (and yourself) a better chance at a healthier life.

Ultimately, the sooner you take action to reduce your exposure to electronic cigarettes and cigarette smoke, the better chance your baby will have of a healthy start to life.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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