Smoking fathers increase heart defect risk in newborns

A new meta-analysis study has found that fathers who smoke may increase the risk of their unborn child developing a congenital heart defect, the number one cause of stillbirth. Though innovations in surgeries have improved the quality of life for individuals with congenital heart defects, the medical condition is lifelong, underscoring the need to reduce risk factors that may contribute to its development.

An ample body of past research highlights the risks maternal smoking during pregnancy has on the developing fetus, but paternal smoking has received less attention. A newly published study details a meta-analysis of existing evidence to determine what effects, if any, smoking fathers may have on their future offspring. The results aren't surprising.

Father's who smoke were found to increase the risk of congenital heart defects in their unborn offspring by exposing the mother to secondhand smoke, which was found to be more harmful to developing fetuses than a lack of cigarette smoke exposure. In contrast, women who smoked before pregnancy — but quite before becoming pregnant — weren't associated with an increased congenital heart defect risk.

In addition, the new study found that a mother's exposure to secondhand smoke was risky for the fetus during all stages of pregnancy, including before becoming pregnant. According to the American Lung Association, secondhand cigarette smoke causes 430 sudden infant death syndrome deaths in the US every year.

Women should stop smoking before becoming pregnant or when they become aware of the pregnancy in order to avoid the birth defects and other risks associated with cigarettes. As well, the study highlights the need to avoid secondhand smoke, exposure to which is more likely if the father smokes.