Is vaping safe in pregnancy?
Are e-cigarettes harmful to your unborn baby? Is vaping better than smoking when you're pregnant? Is it safe to vape around your baby? Our expert GP has the latest scientific evidence
Vaping – or using e-cigarettes (e-cigs) – is increasingly popular. E-cigs are known to be a far less harmful than cigarettes¹, as they contain fewer harmful chemicals, and switching to them can be helpful if you want to give up smoking. But what if you're pregnant? Are e-cigs safe to use in pregnancy? And if you're a smoker, it is safer to switch to vapes when you're pregnant?
Are e-cigs and e-liquids safe to use when you're pregnant?
We don't truly know if it is safe to vape when you are pregnant or not – because so little specific research has been done. It's true to say that using e-cigs is currently considered less risky than smoking during pregnancy but that doesn't mean they're safe.
The vapour from an e-cigarette does undoubtedly contain potentially harmful chemicals – though at a lower dose than in cigarettes – but it's not clear if these chemicals can harm your unborn baby.
And there have been studies on rats² suggesting that the nicotine present in many e-cig products could affect a baby's central nervous system in a way that makes them more susceptible to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) once they're born.
We need more research into the impact of both the vapour and the nicotine in e-cigarettes.
Is it safer to vape rather than smoke in pregnancy?
Yes, although doing neither is definitely the safest option.
If you need help giving up smoking in pregnancy and are thinking of vaping instead, your doctor or midwife will actually recommend you use nicotine replacement patches or gums (NRT), rather than e-cigs. That's because we currently know more about the safety and risks of NRT, while as yet there are many unanswered questions about the safety of e-cigarettes.
What is absolutely clear though, is that there are real risks to both you and your unborn baby by continuing to smoke during pregnancy.
Stopping smoking reduces the risk of pregnancy and birth complications, as well as reducing the risk of your baby being stillborn and born prematurely. It also decreases the risk of your baby having a low birthweight and reduces the risk of (SIDS).
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The earlier in your pregnancy that you can stop smoking the better but it still makes a difference even if you don't have long to go until your baby is due.
Are nicotine patches safer than vaping in pregnancy?
As we've seen above, more is known about the safety and risks of nicotine replacement patches and gums, so health professional will suggest them as the best option to help you quit smoking in pregnancy.
But if e-cigarettes help you quit smoking more effectively than NRT, it's better to vape than continue to smoke.
What exactly is in an e-cigarette?
It depends, as the exact ingredients will vary between brands. But ingredients often include:
- Nicotine – which is highly addictive. It's important to know that many brands which state that they are nicotine-free have been found to contain some nicotine
- Glycerin – often made from palm oil
- Propylene glycol – a synthetic chemical, similar to alcohol
- Flavourings and other chemicals
There has also been evidence that e-cigarettes contain small amounts of carcinogens (compounds which increase your risk of cancer), such as formaldehyde, as well as toxic metals, such as lead. These carcinogens may be present at lower levels than they are in cigarettes but they are still present.
Is it safe to vape around my baby?
Again, we don't truly know. We don't yet have the evidence to truly know if the vapour from vapes is safe or not, though it is likely to be safer than that of cigarettes. (There is clear evidence that passive smoking of cigarettes is a risk to babies and children – even if you smoke at the bottom of the garden.)
If anyone in your household vapes, it's really important that they keep their vapes in a safe place, well away from your child. If a child drinks the liquid in e-cigarettes – which is often appealingly sweet-flavoured – there is a risk of harm, particularly if they drink a significant amount.
Are e-cigarettes available on the NHS?
No, not currently. E-cigarettes aren't available on prescription, although NRT (nicotine patches or gums) is. However, over the next few years, there are plans to roll out a programme offering swaps from cigarettes to vapes.
Where can I get help about quitting smoking in pregnancy?
Your midwife can refer you to a smoking cessation clinic, or your GP surgery may have smoking cessation advice. If you're in England, you may also find it useful to call the National Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044; in Scotland, call Smokeline on 0800 848484; in Wales, call Help Me Quite Wales on 0800 0852219. The Northern Irish helpline has closed but you can find support at StopSmokingNI. You can also visit the NHS Smokefree Facebook page.
1. Using e-cigarettes to stop smoking. NHS online
2. Pre‐ and early postnatal nicotine exposure exacerbates autoresuscitation failure in serotonin‐deficient rat neonates. Stella Y Lee et al. J Physiol. 2018 Dec 1; 596(23): 5977–5991. Published online 2018 Jul 15. doi: 10.1113/JP275885
Pic: Getty Images
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