Through your pregnancy a few simple cells will grow to form your baby. Organs like the heart, lungs, and brain go through intense periods of development. You can imagine how important it is to have the right building blocks for all of this growth. Nutrients and oxygen that support a growing fetus are passed from mother to fetus through an organ called the placenta.
Unfortunately dangerous substances like recreational drugs, alcohol, and chemicals from smoking can also pass through the placenta to your baby. Chemicals from smoke are absorbed into the blood from the mom’s lungs. Many of the chemicals are not only toxic but also interfere with the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the baby. These chemicals can cause serious and chronic illnesses in adults and children. In a developing baby, the chemicals can also affect how the brain, lungs, heart, and other organs develop. Some health issues may be seen at birth while others can develop later in a baby’s life. Fortunately, it is never too late to give your baby the best start to a healthy life.
Researchers do not yet fully understand how every chemical in smoke affects a growing baby. But they do know that the health risks are high. If you smoke, you are more likely to have pregnancy complications that put both you and your baby at risk. Complications for you may include:
Also smoking while pregnant puts your baby at a higher risk for serious complications such as:
By now you probably know that tobacco products contain nicotine, which is an addictive substance. When you first quit smoking, your body goes through withdrawal. You may develop physical symptoms such as lightheadedness, depression, headaches, tiredness, and sleep problems. The first few days after you stop smoking can be tough. The good news is that the withdrawal effects are temporary. Keep this in mind as you get through the first week. It will get better.
If you have cravings, distracting yourself can help you overcome them. For example when you have a craving, do not immediately reach for a cigarette; instead try these distractions:
Talk to others that have successfully quit and ask how they did it. Some programs and smoking cessation tools can also help you gradually decrease your nicotine levels. However, certain smoking cessation products like nicotine gum or patches may not be safe while pregnant. Talk to your doctor to find the right balance.
Remember that while you are pregnant, your baby is also exposed to nicotine through the placenta. If you smoke while pregnant, your newborn baby will have nicotine withdrawal symptoms. This can make your baby more jittery, nervous, and harder to soothe.
The earlier you stop smoking the better for you and your baby. It is never too late to stop. Even shortly after stopping your body will begin to recover:
As you get healthier, so does your baby.
Make a plan to quit smoking:
Remember, if you are making changes to give your baby a healthy start, those around you should help out as well. Secondhand smoke you inhale introduces the same type of chemicals. If you live with a smoker ask the person to stop or smoke outside.
If you do stop smoking during pregnancy, congratulations! Your hard work has given your baby a healthier start and improved your own health. Keep it up even after your baby is born. Smokers that breastfeed continue to pass chemicals like nicotine on to the baby through breast milk. Babies are also very susceptible to secondhand smoke.
If you tried to quit but started smoking again, try again. Identify what it was that triggered your return to smoking and make a new plan around it. It may take more than one try but keep at it and soon you will be enjoying clear deep breaths while you hold your new baby.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
CDC Quit Smoking
Canadian Lung Association
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada
Guide to quitting smoking. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/002971-pdf.pdf. Accessed September 13, 2013.
Medication and drug exposure in pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated August 13, 2013. Accessed September 13, 2013.
Smoking during pregnancy. March of Dimes website. Available at: http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/smoking-during-pregnancy.aspx. Updated April 2010. Accessed September 13, 2013.
Strandberg-Larsen K, Tinggaard M, Nybo Anderson AM, Olsen J, Gronbaek M. Use of nicotine replacement therapy during pregnancy and stillbirth: a cohort study. BJOG. 2008 Oct;115(11):1405-10. Epub 2008 Aug 20.
Tobacco use and pregnancy. Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/tobaccoUsePregnancy/index.htm. Updated August 9, 2013. Accessed September 13, 2013.
7/21/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: McCowan LM, Dekker GA, Chan E, et al. Spontaneous preterm birth and small for gestational age infants in women who stop smoking early in pregnancy: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2009;338:b1081.
7/2/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Biering K, Aagaard Nohr E, Olsen J, Nybo Andersen AM, Juhl M. Smoking and pregnancy-related pelvic pain. BJOG. 2010;117(8):1019-1026.
7/6/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Alverson CJ, Strickland MJ, Gilboa SM, Correa A. Maternal smoking and congenital heart defects in the Baltimore-Washington Infant Study. Pediatrics. 2011;127(3):e647-653.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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