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Prenatal Tobacco Exposure (Smoking)

Smoking while pregnant exposes a woman and her unborn child to an increased risk of health problems, including ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, and premature labor.

Women who smoke are twice as likely to give birth to a low birth weight baby compared to non-smokers, and low birth weight babies are at greater risk of death and are more vulnerable to infection, breathing difficulties and long-term health problems in adulthood.

The more cigarettes smoked during pregnancy, the greater the risk of complications like low birth weight, and the risks to the fetus. Stopping smoking completely as early as possible is a much better option for the health of both the mother and the baby.

Smoking cigarettes is probably a top cause of adverse outcomes for babies: babies born prematurely, babies born too small, babies who die before they can be born at all, etc…

How Does Smoking During Pregnancy Harm Mother’s and Baby’s Health?

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including nasty things like cyanide, lead, and at least 60 cancer-causing compounds, and when you smoke during pregnancy, that toxic brew gets into your bloodstream, which is your baby’s the only source of oxygen and nutrients. Every time a pregnant woman smokes, it cuts down oxygen to her unborn baby and exposes the baby to a cocktail of chemicals, including chemicals that cause cancer.

While none of those 4,000-plus chemicals is good for your baby, nicotine and carbon monoxide toxins are especially harmful, as they account for almost every smoking-related complication in pregnancy.

Pregnancy Complications From Smoking

Some of the pregnancy complications commonly experienced by women who smoke include:

  • Most people know that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and other major health problems, but smoking during pregnancy causes additional health problems, including premature birth, certain birth defects, and infant mortality.
  • Smoking makes it harder for a woman to get pregnant, and women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely than other women to have a miscarriage.
  • Smoking can cause problems with the placenta, which is the source of the baby’s food and oxygen during pregnancy, causing the placenta to separate from the womb too early. This can result in bleeding, which is dangerous to the mother and baby.
  • Smoking during pregnancy can cause premature birth or a low birth weight for the baby. It is then more likely that the baby will be sick and have to stay in the hospital longer. A few babies may not survive.
  • Smoking during and after pregnancy is a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a condition for which the cause of the death cannot be found.
  • Babies born to women who smoke are more likely to have certain birth defects, like a cleft lip or cleft palate.
  • Ectopic pregnancy which is pregnancy outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube, is more likely for women who smoke.
  • Spontaneous abortion, also known as miscarriage becomes more likely.
  • Premature rupture of the membranes, and premature labor.

Some of the many damaging effects of cigarette smoke on the fetus include:

  • reduced oxygen supply to the fetus due to carbon monoxide and nicotine
  • retarded growth and development, and increased risk of cleft lip and cleft palate
  • decreased fetal movements in the womb after smoking, and impaired development and working of the placenta, and
  • Changes in the baby’s vital organs like the brain and lungs.
  • low birth weight, which is linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure in adulthood
  • Increased risk of being overweight and childhood obesity.

Some of the problems caused by smoking while breastfeeding include:

  • Smoking can reduce milk production.
  • Women who smoke are more likely to wean their children earlier than mothers who do not smoke.
  • Increase your baby’s heart rate, and the risk of developing respiratory (lung) problems
  • higher risk of asthma
  • Increases risks of birth defects, and risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The more cigarettes you smoke per day, the greater your baby’s chances of developing these health problems, and there is no safe level of smoking while pregnant. Smoking during pregnancy can impair a child’s health for years to come.

Benefits of Quitting

  • Quitting smoking will help you feel better and provide a healthier environment for your baby. Your baby will get more oxygen, and there is less risk of premature birth.
  • You will be less likely to develop heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease, and other smoke-related diseases, and you will be more likely to live to know your grandchildren.
  • You will have more energy and breathe more easily, and your clothes, hair, and home will smell better.
  • You will have more money that you can spend on other things, and you will feel good about what you have done for yourself and your babies.

Many pregnant women still smoke despite the known risks the habit will create for themselves and their babies, and the only real way to avoid pregnancy complications associated with smoking is to quit. According to the CDC, 10% of women report that they smoked during the last three months of pregnancy, and that is not a good account.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy During Pregnancy

If you are unable to quit smoking on your own, without medication, you may use nicotine replacement therapy (gum, lozenges, mouth spray, patches, or an inhalator) to help you overcome your nicotine cravings.

While using these products is considered safer than smoking, even this smaller amount of nicotine may constitute some risks for your baby.

If you are pregnant, it is important to consult your doctor before using nicotine replacement therapy. You need to personally discuss the risks and benefits of using it with your doctor.

For those that want to quit smoking, they should also seek assistance from the Quitline and its advisors for alternative quitting methods. At the end of the day, quitting smoking is what is good for everyone.



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