Smoking and SIDS

Latest update: October 3, 2020

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD
Medical fact-check: Dr Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

There is a dramatic relationship between smoking and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also called cot or crib death). The risk of SIDS is strikingly higher for babies who smoke passively - secondhand smoke.

The guidelines are simple and clear:

  • Do not smoke during pregnancy (not just mom but also partners and anyone living with them)
  • Never smoke or let anyone smoke near your baby
  • Never smoke or let anyone smoke in a room where your baby stays

Any of these make your baby smoke passively and increase SIDS risk significantly. As this article on the Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke states, "Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)".

Smoking during pregnancy and after birth also increases the risk for a low birth weight (another risk factor for SIDS).

Baby will also be more prone to colds and airway infections, have an increased chance to develop asthma and other diseases.

Also, the risk of cot death when co-sleeping is further increased when either of the parents smoke - even if they do not smoke in bed. So if you do smoke, do not consider co-sleeping at all.

Also think about thirdhand smoke. It's the effect of nicotine residue a baby comes in contact with (long) after a person has smoked. Research is ongoing but there is a definite link with SIDS.[1,2] Find out how you can help limit exposure to thirdhand smoke.

Quit smoking?

Knowing you shouldn't smoke during pregnancy or around your baby is one thing. To quit smoking is another, I know. Someone very close to me gave up smoking at a certain point and I know how hard it can be, regardless of how motivated you are.

As much as you want to take care of your baby's health, to get rid of that cigarette can still be extremely hard.

Depending on your personal situation, a pregnancy can be a difficult time and smoking may be one of your ways to try and deal with that.

On the other hand, your baby's health may be a good motivation to quit smoking during pregnancy.

A few tips:

  • Remind yourself of your baby's health constantly as a motivation to quit smoking during pregnancy.
  • Ensure yourself of your partner's support, and join forces to quit smoking together (both mother and father's smoking harms baby during pregnancy and after birth).
  • Find help. To quit smoking is even harder if you have to do it alone. Ask your local health service for advice and support, it can really work!

Visitor smoking and SIDS

Don't hesitate to ask visitors not to smoke near your baby. This may be a bit uncomfortable in some situations but it's worth the discomfort.

Anyone who respects and cares about baby's life will naturally agree.

Pink no smoking sign

Some families put up fun slogans to remind their visitors, e.g. at the baby shower which can work really well.

Otherwise, simply ask. For some, a subtle no-smoking sign can work wonders too.

Avoid visiting smokey places with your baby, where you have no control over whether one smokes or not.

Something else to think about: extended relatives or babysitters who smoke. Although this is a very sensitive subject and may not make you very popular, plan to arrange visits with such family members in other locations rather than in their smoke-filled homes to protect your little one. And hire babysitters who don't smoke.

Together with the other guidelines to reduce the risk of crib death, the no-smoking policy can save lives. In fact, it can save your baby's life.


[1] Thirdhand Smoke: What You Should Know

[2] How Parents Can Prevent Exposure to Thirdhand Smoke