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Smoking during pregnancy causes cleft lip and palate

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It is now very common knowledge that smoking is bad for one’s health. Smoking has been linked to lung disease, cancer, and many other illnesses. For years doctors have warned women not to smoke during pregnancy. A new report released by the Surgeon General’s office now also confirms a link between smoking and oral cleft birth defects. Smoking during pregnancy causes babies to be born with cleft lip and cleft palate.

"We now have confirmation that smoking during pregnancy can damage the health of both mothers and babies. By quitting smoking before or during pregnancy, a woman will not only improve her own health; she may save her baby from being born too small and with a serious, disfiguring birth defect," said Edward R. B. McCabe, MD, March of Dimes Chief Medical Officer. "Smoking during pregnancy exposes the baby to dangerous chemicals such as nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar. These chemicals can reduce how much oxygen the baby gets, affecting the baby's growth and development."

"The Health Consequences of Smoking--50 Years of Progress," was released by the Surgeon General in honor of the landmark 1964 report that documented the death and disease caused by smoking.

More than 7,000 babies are born in the U.S. each year with an oral cleft birth defect. Smoking increases the risk by 30 to 50 percent; this increased risk can be prevented by quitting smoking. About 23 percent of women smoke during pregnancy.

There are two types of oral cleft defects, a cleft lip, in which a baby's upper lip doesn't form completely and has an opening in it; and a cleft palate, in which the roof of the mouth doesn't form completely and has an opening in it. Both cause feeding problems, and may lead to ear infections, hearing problems, difficulty speaking, and dental problems.

The report also stated that each year about 1,000 infant deaths can be attributed to smoking. Of those, about 40 percent are classified as sudden infant death syndrome, the unexplained death of a baby under a year old while sleeping. Smoking during pregnancy is also known to contribute to preterm birth and stillbirth.

March of Dimes chapters nationwide fund quit smoking programs for women. March of Dimes also has information for women about quitting smoking on its website. Check with your health care professional for more information and tips on how to quit smoking.

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