Smoking and Pregnancy: Learn About the Impact & Risks
Quitting smoking is hard, and sometimes smokers turn a blind eye to how it affects their health. However, for women who either want to become pregnant or have just discovered that they are, smoking has the potential to directly affect your baby as well as yourself.
The fact is, smoking during pregnancy has a host of negative health issues for both you and your child, and quitting today means that the entire experience will be less stressful, less harmful, and more comfortable. Here then, we look at the effects of smoking during pregnancy and how quitting for good will give your child a healthy start to life.
How does smoking affect pregnant women and their babies?
Smoking before, during, and after pregnancy has been shown to affect women and their unborn babies in a variety of ways. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 harmful chemicals, and links have been established between many of these chemicals and their harmful effects on the body.
Common risks of smoking during pregnancy include:
- Ectopic Pregnancy – Nicotine has been shown to cause contractions of the fallopian tube. This may cause a fertilised egg to implant outside the uterus1.
- Miscarriage and Stillbirth – Stillbirth and miscarriage have been linked to smoking at all stages of pregnancy2.
- Placental Abruption – Smoking has been linked with increased cases of placental abruption, a devastating condition where the placenta separates before childbirth3.
- Placental Previa – Smokers are more likely to suffer placental previa where the placenta attaches in an abnormal position within the uterus4.
- Preterm Birth – Babies born too early are often linked with smoking, and there are many associated health risks to the child including visual and hearing impairments, mental disabilities, learning and behavioural problem, and other complications.
- Low Birth Weight – Low birth weights are a common within those who smoke during pregnancy, with mean birth weights recorded at 320 g lower than those who do not smoke5.
- Birth Defects – A range of birth defects have been linked to smoking, some of which may be for life. Congenital heart defects are among the most common, while links between cleft lips and palates have also been shown.
Put simply, not only do you risk a host of diseases and health issues, but the effects of smoking on pregnancy mean that you are also subjecting your child to issues throughout their life, from birth to adulthood. Here, we look at how smoking during pregnancy may affect each stage of the process.
Smoking Before Becoming Pregnant
If you are trying to conceive, the bottom line is, you may find it difficult while smoking. Smoking reduces both male and female fertility, with evidence suggesting that smoking also reduces the efficacy of fertility treatments such as IVF6. In general, women who smoke take much longer to conceive than those who do not, and research suggests that cigarette smoking has a drastic effect on ovarian function, with a 50% reduction in viable embryos7.
However, according to the same study, women who quit smoking before trying to conceive were shown to have the same pregnancy rate as non-smokers. Additionally, quitting will make you feel healthier and is likely to increase libido and sexual desire in both you and your partner8 — giving you a better chance of conceiving early!
Smoking During Early Pregnancy
Smoking at any point of your pregnancy is highly discouraged and quitting today means both you and your baby will be healthier. However, myths surrounding smoking during early pregnancy still exist, and despite health advice and guidance to the contrary, many people still believe that smoking poses no risk at this early stage.
In truth, the effects of smoking during early pregnancy are clear, and multiple studies have linked smoking with reduced gestational age during the first trimester, with embryos being 2-6 days behind normal growth9. Additionally, the idea that quitting smoking will put increased stress on your baby as your body deals with nicotine withdrawal are entirely unfounded.
However, it is also worth noting that, if you are a smoker who has recently discovered a pregnancy during first the trimester, quitting today will help increase your chances of a healthy birth significantly. The bottom line is that, the earlier you quit, the better it will be for you and your baby.
Continuing to Smoke Whilst Pregnant
Continuing to smoke whilst pregnant may lead to a host of avoidable complications and issues for both you and your child. As your baby develops, the harmful chemicals found within cigarettes may cause tissue damage, particularly in areas such as the lungs and brain. Studies also link smoking and miscarriages, with mothers who smoke over the entire term more likely to miscarry at a variety of stages10.
In addition to these issues, smoking during pregnancy prevents your baby from receiving enough oxygen, with the carbon monoxide found within tobacco smoke affecting your baby’s growth. The bottom line is, smoking while pregnant has been associated with:
- 5 to 8% of premature babies
- 13 to 19% of babies with low birth weight when carried to full term
- 5 to 7% of deaths related to preterm birth
- 23 to 34% of deaths caused by SIDS (cot death)11
Smoking After Giving Birth
Second-hand smoke has been proven to harm people around you, and this is even more true for your baby. If you are still smoking at this point then, even now, there are multiple benefits to quitting. SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) has been linked to second-hand smoke, while bronchitis and pneumonia may also be problems within the first year for children that inhale smoke from their parents.
Additionally, a lifetime of second-hand smoke is not only linked to cancer and other diseases in children, but also increases the chances that your child will become a smoker later on in life. Clearly, the effects of smoking during pregnancy and afterwards should be a huge motivation for you to quit.
How to Quit Smoking While Pregnant Safely
With the exception of prescription drugs such as Varenicline (Champix) and Bupropion (Zyban), other methods of quitting smoking are considered safe for pregnant women. Despite myths relating to nicotine withdrawal and stress on both you and your baby, experts agree that smoking increases rather than decreases stress12, and quitting today gives you and your baby the best possible chance at a healthy start to life.
For example, NRT is considered as safe to use while pregnant13, helping you to relieve some of the most intense cravings while avoiding the dangerous chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Additionally, if you suffer from pregnancy induced nausea, nicotine patches are an alternative way to ensure your cravings are kept at bay without increasing the feeling that you need to vomit.
Finally, if you want to learn more about the effects of smoking during pregnancy, how and when to quit smoking while pregnant, and how to find support for your stop smoking journey, contact your local pharmacist, speak to your doctor, or contact the NHS stop smoking helpline.