Smoking during pregnancy: Health effects for you and your baby

Jun 1, 2018
Medically reviewed by Dr. Maroof Ahmed, MD on 
Oct 27, 2019

Congratulations, you’re on a life-changing journey! You’ve just found out that you’re pregnant and suddenly have another human to look out for. You desperately want to do everything right, and ensure your baby is developing in the healthiest possible way.

But unfortunately, despite knowing it’s super important, you haven’t quite managed to kick your habit of smoking.

That doesn’t make you a bad mum, but it does probably mean you could do with a little more support to help you on your way.

You’re not alone either — over 10% of pregnant women continue to smoke for a variety of reasons.

Pregnancy can be a crazy and difficult time; your hormones are all over the place and you’re adapting to a whole host of body changes (swollen boobs and needing to pee every 2 seconds probably aren’t your favourite aspects of being pregnant). You may also be understably anxious about the arrival of the baby, or you’re worrying about having everything ready in time.

If you’re used to combatting stressful situations by lighting up a cigarette, it’s understandable that this might be your natural go-to during pregnancy as well.

The stigma surrounding pregnant smokers probably isn’t helping either. Feeling judged by strangers as you go about your daily business could heighten stress or leave you feeling down and alone, either of which could make you feel like smoking all the more.

But quitting smoking is the best choice you can make for both you and your unborn baby’s health, no matter how far along you are.

To commit fully to the change, you need to be aware of all the facts, so let’s take a look at why quitting is so important.

The Effects of Smoking on Your Baby

While in your womb, your baby’s sole source of oxygen and nutrients is your blood, which is delivered through the umbilical cord, which means your baby breathes in whatever you breathe in.

Tobacco use causes thousands of harmful chemicals — such as nicotine and carbon monoxide — to enter your bloodstream, restricting the supply of oxygen and causing your baby’s heart rate to speed up in order to compensate.

Oxygen shortage can have a detrimental impact on a baby’s growth and development, and as a result, babies with mothers that smoke are far more likely to be born prematurely or with a low birth weight.

Being delivered under such conditions can leave a newborn susceptible to infections and breathing problems, making it more likely that your baby will need to remain in hospital for longer and receive extensive health care.

Exposing your baby to cigarette smoke can also increase the risk of certain birth defects, such as being born with a cleft lip or cleft palate.

But the health risks also extend beyond pregnancy and the first few days following the birth. Cigarette smoking can lead to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), whilst it may also promote the development of additional health problems, such as asthma, further down the line.

If you don’t smoke but someone in your home does, remember that the effects of second-hand smoke can be just as dangerous, and if you’re breathing it in, then so is your baby.

The Effects of Smoking on Your Own Health During Pregnancy

As well as putting the baby at risk, smoking can significantly increase the chance of pregnancy complications for the mother too — at a time when you definitely don’t need any excess anxiety!

Compared with those who don’t, pregnant women who smoke are at an increased risk of placental abruption according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s where the placenta starts to separate from the uterus too soon, potentially leading to blood loss and kidney failure, whilst also increasing the risk of stillbirth.

Don’t forget that as well as the pregnancy-related risks, the general health risks associated with smoking haven’t gone away either! By smoking you’re still increasing the likelihood that you’ll develop heart disease, lung conditions such as COPD, and certain types of cancers.

While in the past you may have swept these thoughts under the rug, it might be time to reconsider now that you’ve got a nipper on the way.

The Benefits of Quitting

Unlike most things, the positive effects of smoking cessation during pregnancy are almost immediate and will have an impact at any stage — it’s never too late to quit!

After just one day your baby will receive an increased supply of oxygen and will be back on track for healthy development, not to mention you’ll be breathing easier too.

It’s likely that quitting will reduce any anxiety you may be experiencing, since as well as promoting a healthy pregnancy, the two of you will also be less likely to develop smoking-related health problems in the future.

Instead, you can put your energy into creating a positive and healthy environment for you and your family, and spend your time looking forward to your new arrival.

In Part 2, we’ll explore the most effective techniques for quitting during pregnancy.

Whether you’re still trying for a baby or already pregnant, the Quit Genius Pregnancy Pack will help you quit and stay smoke-free! Start your journey ->

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