If your health is not enough to make you quit smoking, the health of your baby should be. Smoking during pregnancy affects you and your baby’s health before, during, and after your baby is born. The nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes; carbon monoxide, and numerous other poisons you inhale from a cigarette are carried through your bloodstream and go directly to your baby.
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Smoking while pregnant will:
- Lower the amount of oxygen available to you and your growing baby.
- Increase your baby’s heart rate.
- Increase the chances of miscarriage and stillbirth.
- Increase the risk that your baby is born prematurely and/or born with low birth weight.
- Increase your baby’s risk of developing respiratory problems.
- Increase the risk of birth defects.
- Increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
A shortage of oxygen can have devastating effects on your baby’s growth and development. On average, smoking during pregnancy doubles the chances that a baby will be born too early or weigh less than 5 1/2 pounds at birth. Smoking also more than doubles the risk of stillbirth.
Every cigarette you smoke increases the risks to your pregnancy. A few cigarettes a day are safer than a whole pack, but the difference is not as great as you might think. A smoker’s body is especially sensitive to the first doses of nicotine each day, and even just one or two cigarettes will significantly tighten blood vessels. That is why even a “light” habit can have an outsize effect on your baby’s health.
How Smoking Affects Your Baby
Weight and size
On average, a pack-a-day habit during pregnancy will shave about a half-pound from a baby’s birth weight. Smoking two packs a day throughout your pregnancy could make your baby a full pound or more lighter. While some women may welcome the prospect of delivering a smaller baby, stunting a baby’s growth in the womb can have negative consequences that last a lifetime.
Body and lungs
Undersize babies tend to have underdeveloped bodies. Their lungs may not be ready to work on their own, which means they may spend their first days or weeks attached to a respirator. After they are breathing on their own, or even if they did from the start, these babies may have continuing breathing problems, because of delayed lung development or other adverse effects of nicotine. Children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are especially vulnerable to asthma and have double or even triple the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Babies whose mother smoked in the first trimester of pregnancy are more likely to have a heart defect at birth.
Studies have shown that babies whose moms smoke during pregnancy are at a 20 to 70 percent higher risk of having certain types of congenital heart defects than babies whose moms do not smoke. The defects include those that obstruct the flow of blood from the right side of the heart into the lungs and openings between the upper chambers of the heart.
Smoking during pregnancy can have lifelong effects on your baby’s brain. Children of pregnant smokers are especially likely to have learning disorders, behavioral problems, and relatively low IQs.
The more cigarettes you smoke per day, the greater your baby’s chances of developing these and other health problems. There is no “safe” level of smoking while pregnant.
Second hand smoke is the combination of smoke from a burning cigarette and smoke exhaled by a smoker. The smoke that burns off the end of a cigarette or cigar actually contains more harmful substances (tar, carbon monoxide, nicotine, and others) than the smoke inhaled by the smoker.
If you are regularly exposed to second hand smoke while pregnant, you will have an increased chance of having a miscarriage, stillbirth, tubal pregnancy, low birth weight baby, and other complications of pregnancy.
Babies and children exposed to second hand smoke may also develop asthma, allergies, more frequent lung and ear infections and are at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Unfortunately, getting your partner to quit can be even harder than quitting yourself. The first thing you need to do is find out if he really wants to give up cigarettes. Just come right out and ask: “Are you ready to quit?” If he wants to keep smoking, you cannot force him to stop. You can, however, negotiate some rules. Point out the risks his smoking poses to you and your baby and ask him to smoke outside or at least in a different room. You will reduce your exposure to second hand smoke, and a few nights of shivering on the doorstep might make him rethink his commitment to cigarettes. Visitors to your house should follow the rules, too. And if you are visiting friends or relatives who smoke, ask them not to light up in your presence.If your partner says he is willing to quit, you need to be as supportive as possible. Encourage him to set a “quit date.” If you are still smoking, you can quit together. Help him come up with a plan for dealing with cravings. Ask if there is anything else you can do to help. And if he gets irritable after a few days without cigarettes, cut him some slack.
Ideally, you should give up smoking before you conceive. For one thing, you will have an easier time getting pregnant. Smoking lowers the chance of conceiving during any particular cycle. You also won’t have to struggle with quitting at a time when you should be thinking about other things, like eating well, exercising, and preparing for your baby’s birth.
Of course, not everybody manages to plan that far ahead. But if you are still smoking when you discover you are pregnant, it is not too late. Immediately taking steps toward quitting can hugely benefit your baby.
After weeks 14 to 16, fetuses should be greedily putting on weight. If you are still smoking at that stage, your baby’s growth will start to lag. But as soon as you quit, your baby will start getting the oxygen he needs to grow. By the time you have your next ultrasound, your doctor should be able to see a significant change in your baby’s growth rate. Even if you are smoking at 30 weeks or beyond, you can still give your baby several weeks to put on weight as quickly as possible. It is as easy and as difficult as throwing away your cigarettes and never lighting up again.
Even though you are aware of the dangers of smoking, it is not always easy to give up the habit. The pull of nicotine can overwhelm your good intentions and even override your devotion to your child. That is why you should not try to quit on your own. Talk to your doctor about different ways to quit. Ask your partner and other people around you for support. Use community groups to get help from other expecting moms who have quit. You have to be able to count on other people. After all, there is somebody counting on you.
There are many smoking cessation programs available to help you quit smoking. Ask your health care provider for more information about these programs.
Here are some tips that may help you kick the habit:
- Hide your matches, lighters, and ashtrays.
- Designate your home a non-smoking area.
- Ask people who smoke not to smoke around you.
- Drink fewer caffeinated beverages; caffeine may stimulate your urge to smoke. Also avoid alcohol, as it may also increase your urge to smoke and can be harmful to your baby.
- Change your habits connected with smoking. If you smoked while driving or when feeling stressed, try other activities to replace smoking.
- Keep mints or gum (preferably sugarless) on hand for those times when you get the urge to smoke.
- Stay active to keep your mind off smoking and help relieve tension: take a walk, exercise, read a book, or try a new a hobby.
- Look for support from others. Join a support group or smoking cessation program.
- Do not go to places where many people are smoking, such as bars or clubs, and smoking sections of restaurants.
Nicotine gum and patches release nicotine into the bloodstream of the smoker who is trying to quit. Although these products can reduce withdrawal symptoms and decrease cravings in smokers who are trying to quit, the safety of these products has not been adequately evaluated in pregnant women.
It is recommended that nicotine gum and patches be considered in pregnant women only after other non-drug treatments, like counseling, have failed and if the increased likelihood of quitting smoking, with its potential benefits, outweighs the unknown risk of nicotine replacement and potential smoking.
The benefits of not smoking start within days of quitting. After you quit, you and your baby’s heartbeat will return to normal, and your baby will be less likely to develop breathing problems.
It is hard to stop smoking, but in the long run it will benefit your health and your baby’s health, so stick with it.