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Mom Worried About ‘Thirdhand Smoke’ Wants Heavy Smoking Mother-in-Law to Shower Before Ever Holding Grandchild


A first-time mom said she’s worried about her mother-in-law’s smoky hands touching her newborn baby and needs some advice.

While her husband’s mother would never smoke around her grandchild, there is a growing concern about thirdhand smoke and its effect on the health of her child.

The anxious daughter-in-law wrote in to Slate‘s parenting forum to ask for advice on how to tell her close family member that she wants her to shower and change her clothes each time she wants to hold her grandchild if she chooses to smoke.

She’s trying to protect her newborn from inhaling cigarette toxins from her mother-in-law’s clothes and skin. The woman asked if her request was reasonable after doing research about thirdhand smoke.

Her mother-in-law is coming for a visit, and she’s a heavy smoker. She wrote:

I am very concerned about her holding the baby after she has had a cigarette. My husband and I have decided that after she smokes, she needs to shower and change her clothes before she can pick up the baby.

However, she doesn’t want to offend her child’s grandmother or make her feel “ostracized,” so she asked:

How can we still be welcoming and let her know we are excited to have her around while still setting these boundaries? Also, how long should we remain this strict about the issue? How should we handle this when we are visiting my in-laws?

According to the National Center for Health Research (NCHR), thirdhand smoke is a real thing, although most people probably haven’t heard of it. But apparently, the residual nicotine and other dangerous chemicals left on surfaces by tobacco smoke can expose people to tobacco-related health risks.

The woman doesn’t want to be cruel or ruin her relationship with her mother-in-law, but she doesn’t have the power to force her to stop smoking.

What should she do?

What would you say to this conflicted mom who doesn’t want the residue from cigarettes to potentially harm her baby?

What do you think?

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  1. Stop! Third-hand smoke is not a thing. My mother, her mother smoked all the time. We didn’t get asthma & there were four of us. Of course we didn’t sit inside & play video games all day.
    When the mother-in-law leaves, open a window, and give the baby a bath.
    Be grateful your child has grandparents who want to participate in & enrich your child’s life.

  2. Pardon me——third hand smoke is real. It is the smoke that is on a smokers body after they smoke! I am an asmatic—my son visited and smoked outside then came in. I got very ill before he left with the reaction to the tobacco residue left on him after he smoked and also from his inside his car. Had to tell him not to visit while he still smoked.

  3. Interestingly enough, for years my sister and I tried to get our grandparents to stop smoking. Once my first born came along, every time she would light up, we would take him outside of the house/building/wherever. I think she may have asked or made a comment a couple of times, and it was explained that we did not want him exposed to second hand smoke. After several months, maybe a year, we had had a family meal and noticed she did not go out for a smoke. Then we noticed she didn’t go out all day. She had decided to quit, on her own, told nobody…..and we were all so very gracious that she did because she now has 5 great grands that have not been subjected to her nasty habit. 😀

  4. I was a very heavy smoker for many years. I tried to quit on several occasions, finally succeeding in late December, 2001. I felt fabulous and noticed immediately that my clothes no longer stank of smoke. I had to practically fumigate my truck and house. So yeah, third hand smoke is a thing. Oh, and I had a heat attack that killed me in January, 2002, 3 weeks after my last cigarette. Good thing I was in the ER when it hit.

  5. The smell is very real. I would lean things to friends who smoked and it stank when I got it back. I would definately talk to my MIL about my concerns as I am a non smoker for life!

  6. Take the shower and change your clothes. I went thru a similar thing with my son and his wife…I thought they were being rediculous about it and refused . Two weeks later my preenie grand daughter died ( for different reasons) and first ..and only chance I ever got to hold my precious ( now angel) grand daughter was after she was dead and I could do no harm.

  7. Stop Smoking you will feel better and put years back on your life. Smoking is not good for you. You are wasting your time ,money and quality time with your loved ones. Smoking cigarettes can cause cancer on any part of your body. Quit smoking!

  8. Any Form of cigarette smoke either first.,second or third hand to me is ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING.
    Hasn’t it been proven over and over the years the health risks and risks to the environment.
    Unfortunately you really can’t fix stupidity, just try reasoning with a smoker and you usually hear of the SMOKERS RIGHTS I and to be considerate

  9. Ok, back to reality. Not surprised she is a first time Mom. Yes, smoke lingers on clothing. So does viruses going around. Is the MIL going to quit smoking or is this going to be an ongoing issue. Is there smoke residue in her home? Is the child never going to be allowed to visit there. Never ride with her in her car, which no doubt has smoke residue. It would be wonderful if the MIL quit, but I’m assuming that isn’t going to happen. Asking someone to “shower and change your clothes” to hold a baby is extremely rude. How about making or buying a “holding” gown- “Mom, I know it’s silly but we’re asking everyone to slip this on while holding him/her until she gets a little older”. One of the reasons we have so many illnesses now is because of Moms like this who don’t expose their children to normal levels of bacteria so they can build natural antibodies. Smoke is not one of these categories, and I appreciate her concern. Her bigger problem is if MIL doesn’t quit. It’s also naive to think your child will never be around any smoke residue. As you may have guessed by my answer, I’m old school. Raised 5 children (no illnesses, btw) We didn’t send sanitizer in our kids backpacks, they drank out of the hose out back, they shared each other’s drinking glasses. All that said, it’s overwhelming being a first time parent-downright frightening. Your baby needs you, it’s father and it’s grandmother, (even if she’s a smoker). It’s a crap shoot. Do the best you can. You know those smokers lips are gonna be planting smooches on that sweet grandchild. Some things in life are worth fighting about- some aren’t.

    • Thank you for this, I too smoke as does my husband. We raised 5 kids as well and now have 7 grand kids with another due in May. One of our 5 kids had an ear infection, once. Our grand kids are sick “all the time” it feels like. They have given us illnesses HA! When our 5th child, who btw is now Dr. Julie, was just born my nurse brought me a cigarette and a phone and put me by the sink in the recovery room. She too smoked and would come to my door in the Labor room and go “Na, na, na, na, na … I’m going for a cigarette!” How things have changed.

  10. My grandson is so allergic to my cat I have to wear clean clothes when I am with him. It took a long time before we realized that my parents smoking made us all sick years ago. Be firm in decision to protect the baby!

  11. We actually declined to offer on a house we loved due to the smoke smell. When it permeates like that there is no clearing it.

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