E-Cigarettes May Cause Birth Defects During Pregnancy

It's well-known that smoking cigarettes can be very harmful during pregnancy. But what about e-cigarettes? E-cigarettes are becoming a more popular option, especially among younger people, so you may wonder if using an e-cigarette is harmful during pregnancy. 

{ MORE: Smoking During Pregnancy Is Now Linked to Hearing Loss }

Some women may even think that e-cigarettes that don't contain nicotine are especially harmless. 

Unfortunately, even e-cigarettes, which are touted as a “healthier” smoking option, are potentially dangerous to a developing fetus. A study by researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University linked them to birth defects to a developing fetus during pregnancy. The study was done in frogs, but it showed doctors how human embryos might react to the chemicals in the e-cigarettes. 

Traditional cigarettes have been proven to cause facial and cranial defects in developing babies. E-cigarettes have also been found to cause facial defects during the embryonic development stage as well. 

Image via Unsplahsh/ Arteida MjESHTRI

The study explained that the use of e-cigarettes, commonly called “vaping,” is becoming more commonplace. Researchers also noted that many pregnant women mistakenly believe that vaping is not harmful to their babies because e-cigarettes aren't “real” cigarettes. The truth is, however, that e-cigarettes vary widely and have many different components. Some e-cigarettes contain nicotine, while others do not. They also contain other ingredients, such as chemicals and flavorings. And while nicotine has been studied for harmful effects, especially during pregnancy, the other components in e-cigarettes have not. 

{ MORE: Let's Be Real: The Real Work of Pregnancy Comes After the Birth }

Thus, they set out to study exactly what kind of effect vaping might have during pregnancy. They used frog embryos and mammalian neural crest cells to run their tests, because the developmental process during pregnancy is similar to how human embryos develop. Essentially, frog facial and cranial development responds to the same processes and genes during pregnancy that human embryos do. So if exposure to a certain chemical during pregnancy causes a reaction in the frog, it's extremely likely that the same reaction would occur in a human embryo. 

Specifically, the study found that e-cigarettes might cause oral and facial defects in babies. When the frog embryos were exposed to the chemicals, the chemicals caused extensive oral and cranial-facial deformities, including cleft palates. It also revealed that there was an overall reduction in the blood supply to the face, which led to a loss of cranial cartilage, along with muscle defects. And while you might think that the defects were caused by the nicotine in the e-cigarettes, they actually weren't. Surprisingly, the study found that the oral and facial defects were not caused by nicotine in the e-cigarettes. They were actually caused by other components in the cigarettes, such as propylene, glycol, vegetable glycerin, and other flavor additives. 

The flavors that made up the different kinds of e-cigarettes appeared to have a huge effect on the type and severity of the defect. For example, flavors that were described as “nutty” and flavors that were related to food, such as berries and creme, were found to have most the dramatic effect on the face development. Cleft palates were the most commonly seen defect. But the frogs' faces were also noticeably smaller. 


This study was the first of its kind to specifically study what effect e-cigarettes might have on a developing fetus, even those that do not contain nicotine. More research needs to be done before doctors can know exactly what harm e-cigarettes can cause on babies in the womb. But until research confirms exactly those effects are, it's important to avoid vaping during pregnancy.  

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Bottom line? It's best to avoid smoking in any form during pregnancy. Smoking traditional cigarettes will lead to negative outcomes to the fetus, with everything from low birth weight to facial defects. But vaping–even without nicotine–is also potentially harmful to a developing fetus. If you currently are using cigarettes and become pregnant, talk to your doctor about a plan of action for weaning off of it, especially if it contains nicotine. 

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E-Cigarettes May Cause Birth Defects During Pregnancy

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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