Smoking and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

When you’re pregnant, protecting your baby is your number one priority. Even if the risks of smoking to you weren’t enough to encourage you to quit, stopping smoking is essential if you want to avoid harming your baby. Thankfully, plenty of help is available.

Tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of over 7,000 chemicals, and about 69 of them are known carcinogens. For any smoker, the continued inhalation of this mixture of chemicals leads to a multitude of health problems, including (but not limited to) lung cancer and other cancers, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and strokes. If you smoke when you’re pregnant, you expose your baby to this mixture of harmful chemicals, and as you may expect, this poses some health risks to your baby. This, above all, is why smoking and pregnancy is not a good combination, and why you should aim to quit as soon as possible.

The Risks of Smoking During Pregnancy

Smoking during pregnancy can lead to premature birth, birth defects and even the death of the infant, according to the CDC.

Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have a miscarriage than other mothers, and can cause babies to be born too early or have a low birth-weight. Smoking both during and after pregnancy also increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It can also affect the placenta, which is integral to the baby’s survival during pregnancy, and may possibly lead to it separating from the womb too early. Birth defects like cleft lips are also more common in babies born to smokers.

How Many Women Smoke During Pregnancy?

Although smoking during pregnancy is dangerous, quitting smoking is very difficult and some mothers do continue to smoke while pregnant. Statistics from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring System show that in 2011, around 10% of women smoked during the last third of their pregnancy. About 55% of those who smoked before getting pregnant quit during pregnancy, but unfortunately about 40% of those who quit started again before the baby was 6 months old.

This shows that most mothers who smoke successfully quit upon learning that they’re pregnant, but it does also reveal a problem in that about 1 in 10 mothers continue to smoke while pregnant. However, the high quit-rate for pregnant mothers shows that it is possible to quit smoking while you’re pregnant, especially if you use as much support as you can during the process.

Quitting Smoking While Pregnant: Tips for Staying Smoke-Free

If you find out you’re pregnant but you still smoke, quitting as soon as possible is the best thing you can do for your baby. Unfortunately, even with the added motivation to protect your baby, quitting smoking isn’t easy.

Learning some tips for quitting smoking during pregnancy can help maximize your chances of success:

  • Set a Quit Date: Stopping smoking the instant you find out you’re pregnant may seem like the best strategy, but in practice, setting a “quit date” is often the best approach. This gives you time to plan ahead for the problems you’re likely to face as you go smoke-free. Tell your friends and family about your plans to encourage you to stick with it.
  • Get Support from Your Loved Ones: Quitting smoking is challenging, so don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family for support, especially if they have experience quitting smoking. You can also ask smokers you know to avoid lighting up in front of you.
  • Choose Your Approach: “Cold turkey” isn’t the only way to quit smoking during pregnancy. You could, for example, cut down your cigarettes gradually rather than all at once.
  • Talk to Your Doctor: Your doctor will be able to give you advice and guidance when you’re quitting smoking. For example, while avoiding all nicotine is the ideal solution, your doctor will be able to advise you on whether to use nicotine replacement therapy. This is better than smoking during pregnancy, and is one of the only options you have to help, because other stop-smoking medicines aren’t advised during pregnancy.
  • Plan for Cravings: You will encounter cravings when you try to quit, so it’s best to develop some strategies for dealing with them. For example, you could decide to chew gum or get some food when you experience a craving. However, anything you like could work – cravings are short-lived, so you just need something to take your attention for five minutes or so.
  • Remember Why You’re Quitting: Quitting smoking during pregnancy means you have more of a motivation than most smokers who quit, and this is a source of strength during difficult times. Remember that you’re quitting for the good of your baby when you’re struggling to keep your willpower up.
  • Don’t Beat Yourself Up if You Slip: If you have one or two cigarettes, don’t beat yourself up about it. Think about all of the cigarettes you didn’t smoke rather than the ones you did. Quitting without a slip-up is very rare, so you have to be willing to forgive yourself and move on with your quit attempt.

Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but if you plan your approach, use as much support as you can get and keep your baby’s health in mind, you’ll give yourself the best chance of staying smoke-free.