Can I Smoke During Pregnancy?
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Everyone is aware of how bad smoking is for your health. Smoking increases your risk of getting cancer, heart disease, stroke and gum disease, among other things. There are a number of reasons why it is not a good idea to smoke before or during your pregnancy.
Don't smoke if you are trying to conceive
If you smoke, or are a passive smoker, scientists have found that it takes longer to get pregnant. If your partner also smokes he will damage his sperm, reducing its quality and quantity and therefore reducing your ability to make a baby.
Don't smoke once you are pregnant
If you smoke during pregnancy, your baby will be sharing the chemicals from the smoke you breathe. If you breathe in second-hand smoke (passive smoking) your baby will also be affected by the dangerous chemicals in other people's smoke.
When you smoke, or are a passive smoker, the smoke you breathe in goes into your lungs and you inhale more than 4,000 chemicals with each cigarette. One of these is a dangerous chemical called carbon monoxide, which is absorbed into your blood and replaces some of the oxygen moving around in your bloodstream. Because of the higher levels of carbon monoxide in your blood, the oxygen supply to your baby will be reduced and your baby's oxygen supply may be restricted. Oxygen is vital for your baby's healthy growth and development, and because cigarettes restrict their oxygen supply, your baby's tiny heart has to beat harder every time you smoke.
Your unborn baby gets absolutely everything it needs to survive from you. Your blood delivers essential nutrients and oxygen to your baby through the placenta and umbilical cord, but this means the dangerous toxins in smoke will pass through to your baby too. These toxins can also damage the placenta, which is vital for your baby's development and successful birth.
If you smoke during your pregnancy, there are very serious health risks for both you and your unborn baby.
Risks before and during birth
If you smoke during pregnancy, you are at a greater risk of:
- Having an ectopic pregnancy (a medical emergency where the fertilised egg implants itself somewhere outside of the womb, usually in a fallopian tube).
- Giving birth to a baby prematurely and with a low birth weight.
- Miscarriage, vaginal bleeding, and stillbirth.
Risks after birth
If you smoke during pregnancy, your baby is more likely to:
- Have extra problems in keeping warm.
- Be more vulnerable to infection during and after labour.
- Cry more and be harder to settle.
- Be born with a birth defect, like cleft lip and/or palate.
- Have a greatly increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (also known as cot death). If you smoke between one and nine cigarettes a day during your pregnancy, the risk of cot death is four times higher than in women who don't smoke. This risk increases to eight times higher if you smoke twenty or more cigarettes a day.
If you smoke during pregnancy, your child is more likely to:
- Become a smoker when they are older.
- Have problems with painful ear infections, such as inflammation of the middle ear.
- Have asthma or other chest infections.
- Have mental development and behavioural problems. This may lead to hyperactivity and your child having a short attention span.
I'm already pregnant and I smoke, is it too late?
It's never too late to try and make a change to your smoking habits. Your risk of having complications increases the further into your pregnancy you smoke. But, if you stop smoking in the first half (20 weeks) of your pregnancy, your baby has a good chance of being born a normal weight.
If you are pregnant and smoking, the quicker you can stop the better it will be for you and your baby.
How can I give up smoking?
It is very easy for people to say 'just give up'. Actually the reality is that nicotine (found in cigarettes) is one of the most addictive substances on earth and so quitting smoking is going to be hard work. Try to think about the long-term benefits that being smoke-free will give both you and your baby.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. Some women feel very guilty or ashamed about being pregnant and smoking but there is a lot of support out there to help you quit:
- Speak to your midwife or doctor who will be able to offer you support and advice.
- Take a look at the NHS SMOKEFREE website for more information on smoking during pregnancy: http://smokefree.nhs.uk/smoking-and-pregnancy/
- Call the NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline on 0800 169 9169. It's free and confidential and is staffed by trained counsellors who know how hard it is to quit. They are there to listen to you and offer support.
- If your partner also smokes, maybe talk through the reasons not to smoke with him and discuss trying to give up together.
Don't lose heart if you can't quit straight away. Cut back on as many cigarettes as you can and keep trying to give up completely.
When you stop smoking, both you and your baby will get the benefits immediately. The carbon monoxide and other chemicals quickly leave your body so there will be more oxygen in your blood, which is great news for a healthy baby. Plus you'll be on your way to being a healthy, yummy Mummy - just think of all the beauty benefits of not smoking, like fewer stain marks on your fingers and teeth, fresher breath and fewer wrinkles!