Smoking During Pregnancy:  Effects on You and Your Baby

Smoking During Pregnancy:  Effects on You and Your Baby

What’s the harm in smoking during pregnancy?

When discussing the harmful effects of smoking tobacco, most people think of lung cancer. Yes, cigarettes are known to be harmful to your lungs causing a range of diseases from emphysema to cancer — but what effect does smoking have on your body during pregnancy and on your growing baby?

Smoking tobacco is an addictive and unhealthy habit. Women who are trying to conceive (become pregnant) may be unaware that smoking makes conception more unlikely and raises their risk of having a miscarriage, stillbirth or an ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside of the uterus). Smoking during pregnancy can cause an array of medical problems for your pregnancy and growing baby including harm to the placenta, premature delivery, premature rupture of membranes, low birth weight, smaller than average brain size, and birth defects such as cleft lip, cleft palate, and congenital heart defects.

The harmful chemicals in tobacco (tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide) are passed along to your baby through your bloodstream and your breastmilk. These toxins are known to have harmful effects on your growing baby, mainly through deprivation of oxygen and nutrients. The effects of smoking are not limited to pregnancy complications. Babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy are at a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), asthma, decreased pulmonary function, respiratory infections, colic, and childhood obesity as well as future infertility, kidney disease and high blood pressure. Moreover, data indicates that maternal smoking affects brain development, emotional development, behavior, language comprehension, and learning ability.2

Risks of Second Hand Smoke Exposure

Even if you don’t smoke, you may be one of the 88 million adults and children exposed to second hand smoke which can have a negative effect on your baby’s health, both in and out of the womb.   As with smoking during pregnancy and following birth, exposure to second hand smoke may cause low birth weight, birth defects, miscarriage, stillbirth, tubal pregnancy and infant ear infections, asthma attacks, lung infections, allergies and SIDS.  

Pregnancy is the perfect time to quit.

If you smoke and want to quit, you are not alone. Speak with your healthcare provider if you need assistance. Initially smoking cessation should be tried without the use of medication, however, at times certain over-the-counter or prescription medications can be used. It is important to understand that such medications have not been adequately studied during pregnancy and thus their safety is not completely understood. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that:

“Over-the-counter nicotine replacement products should be used only if other attempts to quit have not worked and you and your health care provider have weighed the known risks of continued smoking against the possible risks of these products. Smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes, and nicotine gel strips are not safe substitutes for cigarettes.” 

If you smoke and are pregnant, you are not alone and there is help. Contact your healthcare provider for assistance.

Lori Smith
Lori Smith, BSN, MSN, CRNP received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Wilkes University and her Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania. She practiced as a Gynecologic Oncology Nurse Practitioner for 7 years after completion of her master’s degree, providing care to women with both benign and malignant female reproductive diseases. Lori is now an accomplished freelance writer specializing in health and wellness; she has been published in both print and online media.

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