New Study Explores Association Between Paternal Smoking and Congenital Heart Defects in Babies

By Katy Mena-Berkley
Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Babies born to fathers who smoke are more likely to have congenital heart defects, according to a recently published study.

During pregnancy, women take a variety of precautions to protect their unborn children, and not smoking is a priority for many expectant mothers. However, men should pay close attention to their own behaviors, according to the study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology. Specifically, research indicates that secondhand smoke from fathers-to-be increases the likelihood of congenital heart defects in developing fetuses.

According to study author Jiabi Quin, PhD, with Xiangya School of Public Health, Central South University, Changsha, China, fathers who smoke contribute a significant amount of secondhand smoke that pregnant women encounter. According to the researchers, that secondhand smoke may present more dangers to women and babies than if pregnant women are smoking. This is of particular concern, as expectant fathers are more likely to smoke than expectant mothers.

“The association between prospective parents smoking and the risk of congenital heart defects has attracted more and more attention with the increasing number of smokers of childbearing age,” Dr. Qin says in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. “Smoking in fathers-to-be and exposure to passive smoking in pregnant women are more common than smoking in pregnant women.”

The Heart of the Matter

To investigate the impact of smoking on an unborn child, Dr. Qin and his colleagues reviewed 125 studies involving 137,574 babies with congenital heart defects, as well as 8.8 million prospective parents. These studies occurred prior to June 2018.

According to the meta-analysis of the research, exposure to smoke, which is a known teratogen, increases the likelihood of unborn babies developing cardiac malformations, including atrial septal defect and right ventricular outflow. The risk increases 74% when fathers smoke, 124% when mothers-to-be are exposed to passive smoke and 25% when pregnant women smoke.

“Smoking has a direct effect on the risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect,” says Jolien Roos-Hesselink, MD, PhD, Professor of Cardiology, Head of the Department of Congenital Heart Disease at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. “It is very wise [for both mothers and fathers] to stop smoking before you plan for pregnancy.”

The review also explored and found that exposure to secondhand smoke was dangerous to a baby’s cardiac health during every stage of pregnancy, as well as prior to pregnancy. Moreover, the low birth weight in a baby that may be attributed to cigarette exposure can impact the child throughout life.

“If you have a low birth weight, that really has quite a dramatic impact on the long-term outcome for the child,” Dr. Roos-Hesselink says. “It can impact physical and psychological development.”