7 Things to Know About Smoking During Your Pregnancy

We can all probably agree that smoking sucks. It yellows your teeth, smells up your hair and clothes, and isn't kind to your wallet. More importantly, you’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the health risks caused by smoking. Whether it’s the graphic images on the cigarette packaging or the glares you from non-smokers, it’s hard to hide from the fact that smoking is detrimental to your (and others’) health.

Like all bad habits, quitting is easier in theory than in practice. Oftentimes, we’ll find any excuse to avoid stopping; you question how bad it really is for you, you tell yourself how just one more won’t kill you (over and over), and you create reasons as to why you absolutely need it. Cigarettes are scientifically proven to be biologically addictive. This means that quitting isn't only tough to do mentally, but physically as well.

As soon as you find out you’re expecting, though, something changes. 

Getting pregnant is awesome, a huge plus is that it gives smoking women a big (and adorable) reason to quit. It’s easy to make excuses why you can’t (or don’t want to) quit when it’s just you, but when you suddenly have something depending on you to grow and develop into a healthy baby, it gives you the extra motivation and push to be able to leave the cigarettes behind. Here are 7 Things to Know About Smoking During Your Pregnancy.

6 Smoking Messes With Your Personal Health

Okay, this is an obvious one. But before we move into facts about how smoking affects your baby, it’s important to understand exactly why and how cigarettes are bad for you personally. Mortality rates for smokers are three times higher than they are for non-smokers. 

This, along with it being one of the leading causes of preventable deaths, should be enough for people to stop smoking in such larger numbers, but for one reason or another, it isn’t. Whether people aren’t properly informed on the effects of smoking or they choose to remain ignorant (and blissful), facts are facts.

The make-up of a cigarette alone is enough to run far, far, away. Cigarettes are made up of about 600 ingredients that generate about 7000 chemicals when burning. At least 70 of those ingredients have scientifically been found to cause cancer and these ingredients are common to cigars, pipes and hookahs alike.

Doctors Recommend Being in Optimal Health Before Having a Baby

The most known effect of smoking is the effect it has on your lungs. As your lungs lose their ability to filter dangerous chemicals over time, toxins get trapped and end up building up. This leads smokers to much higher chances of pulmonary diseases like respiratory infections, colds, flus, and of course, lung cancer.

Another serious issue related to smoking involves your entire cardiovascular system. Nicotine causes a sugar boost in your blood and leaves you feeling tired and craving more once it runs out. It restricts blood flow, lowers good cholesterol, raises blood pressure, and contributes to the forming of blood clots (causing issues like strokes and leukemia).

Smoking Takes Years Off Your Life

If that wasn’t enough, smoking also:

  • Causes skin discoloration, wrinkles, and premature aging
  • Causes yellowing of the fingernails, fingers and teeth
  • Causes dental problems like gum inflammation, infection, tooth decay and tooth loss
  • Causes cancer of the mouth and throat
  • Increases your risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Contributes to higher rates of infertility
  • Increases a woman’s risk of cervical cancer

As scary as all that looks, it’s shockingly just a preliminary list of what smoking can do to you. It really is just the tip of the iceberg.

5  Smoking Creates Pregnancy Complications

The aforementioned cocktail of chemicals (including lead and cyanide) being inhaled with every cigarette has a huge bearing on your pregnancy and your unborn child. Your baby’s only source of oxygen and nutrients, your bloodstream, gets riddled with these poisons and creates a plethora of complications.

The most dangerous parts of a cigarette are the nicotine and the carbon monoxide. These two chemicals are responsible for your baby receiving a lot less oxygen than it should. Between the narrowing of blood vessels and your blood now carrying carbon monoxide, your baby is getting a fraction of what it needs to thrive healthily.

Cigarettes Really Are Poison

Smoking increases (by about double) the chances of the following issues:

  • Placental abruption (the premature separation of the placenta from the uterus can put the fetus in distress, can cause the mother to hemorrhage, and can require her to need blood transfusions)
  • Placenta previa (the placenta growing in the lower abdomen causing complications like needing a C-section and thus requiring longer recovery time)
  • Rupture of membranes (the rupture of the amniotic sac inducing early labor before the baby is ready to come out)

As the umbilical cord is unable to transfer enough oxygen and nutrients to your baby, the fetus is much less likely to grow and develop normally. As if that isn’t bad enough, these risk factors can also cause the mother to bleed much more heavily during childbirth, putting both she and the baby in danger.

4 Smoking Causes Physical Birth Defects

Most expecting parents only hope that their baby comes out healthy and happy. Smoking, though, greatly decreases the chances of that happening. While it’s hard to imagine that a few cigarettes here and there would have a serious effect on your baby physically, it’s proven that it does more often than not.

The most known affect of smoking on your baby growth relates to its weight and size. Smoking throughout your pregnancy can reduce your baby’s birth weight by up to a pound by almost double. And when babies already come out tiny, that’s a pretty big loss. 

While this might not seem so bad to you (hey- it’s a smaller thing I need to squeeze out of my vagina!), the stunting of growth can have effects that last throughout their lives. As one would imagine, a baby that’s smaller than it should be also has lungs that are smaller than they should be. 

Birth Defects Are 100% Avoidable

Babies that aren’t developed full or come out prematurely often have lungs that aren’t ready to work on their own. The weak lungs paired with the effects of nicotine experienced while in the womb lead these babies to having a greater chance of developing respiratory problems like asthma and allergies.

Smoking during your pregnancy can also lead your baby to higher risks of:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Altered lung structure
  • Heart defects (by 20 to 70%)
  • More frequent lung and ear infections
  • Cleft lip palate

All of these physical issues really speak to the serious effects cigarettes and smoking has on our health. While cutting down on how much you’re smoking is obviously better than nothing, smoking any amount at all can increase the risks of any of these physical birth defects.

3 Smoking Affects a Child’s Mental Development

What’s worse than physical problems are mental one’s. Just like smoking has mental side effects on you as an adult, it has effects on your child. The way in which smoking affects nerve cells and alters the chemical makeup of the brain is what explains the connection between smoking during your pregnancy and psychiatric problems in your child

Adults addicted to nicotine show lower levels of a specific amino acid in the part of their brain responsible for pleasure and pain. The part of the brain responsible for decision-making is also affected by nicotine.

Findings showing that smoking during pregnancy can cause your child to have issues with irritability, inattention, loss of self-control, and an inclination towards addiction.

Smoking Takes Your Child's Head Start Away

It has also been found that they are more likely to have:

  • Learning disorders
  • Developmental disorders (like ADHD)
  • Behavioral problems (defiant and impulsive behavior, drug use, criminal activity, etc…)
  • Lower IQ’s than babies of non-smokers
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Shorter attention spans
  • hyperactivity

Newly published research from the American Journal of Psychiatry also found a connection between babies of smokers and Bipolar Disorder. A study was done on 700 women that found that the offspring of women who smoked during the pregnancy has a twofold risk of developing this disorder.

2 Smoking Can Cause Fatal Complications

In worst cases, smoking during your pregnancy can cause death. If anything will get you to quit, this is probably it.

While the relationship between miscarriage (happening in 12-26% of pregnancies) and smoking during pregnancy has been found to be inconclusive, the US Surgeon General has classified it as being suggestive. It has been found, however, that women who have been exposed to cigarette smoke throughout their lives are 19% more likely to have a miscarriage than women who have not. 

Additionally, the British Medical Journal found that they are 61% more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy (which leads to death for the infant).

Besides it being bad for your child’s overall health both short-term and long-, smoking while pregnant is found to be related to SIDS. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is the sudden death of an infant that cannot be explained by the child’s medical history. 

You Can Always Get Help to Quit Anytime

Researchers have found a link between infants exposed to cigarette smoke (and thus, nicotine) both in the womb and after being born and a mortality rate of SIDS three times higher than that of children born to non-smoking moms.

With babies of smoking mothers also being born prematurely, there is a higher risk (due to low birth weight and general underdevelopment) of these babies facing complications leading to death. The United States Public Health Service reported that if all US women stopped smoking during pregnancy, there would be an approximate 11% decrease in stillbirths and a 5% decrease in infant deaths

1 There’s No Better Time To Quit, Like NOW 

It’ll never be easy to quit, but you’ll never find an easier time than when you’re pregnant. Nothing in the world will ever be a greater incentive to drop the cigarettes for gooda than your new little munchkin- consider it the first of many gifts this little bundle of joy will bring.

The difficulties and discomfort associated with quitting requires great motivation to surpass. As opposed to other times you’ve tried to quit, you now have the greatest motivator you’re likely ever have.

While the healthiest way to go is to quit as soon as you get the news of your incoming bundle of joy, we all know that nothing is that easy, and despite the pressure put on you, no one expects you to be perfect. 

Get Support to Help You Quit

Keep in mind that relapses happen to the strongest of people. But every day, week or month not smoking is a day, week or month that the baby hasn’t been exposed to the dangerous chemicals. Quitting as late as the 32nd week of pregnancy has been found to increase the baby’s birth weight to levels similar to babies of non-smoking mothers.

It’s important to look at this process as a long-term choice as opposed to a 9-month hiatus. Smoking after giving birth is just as dangerous as smoking while pregnant. Babies who inhale cigarette smoking are more likely to develop:

  • Ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Asthma
  • Other respiratory illnesses

In addition to health concerns, watching you smoke can be habit-forming and can lead them to eventually be smokers. Don’t condition them to harm themselves.

  • 1.Helpful Tips to Quit

For the health of you, the people around you, and your unborn child, quitting, while difficult, is the smartest (and most responsible) thing you can do. Some tips on quitting before (and during) you pregnancy include:

  • Get rid of your lighters, matches and ashtrays
  • Ask your smokers friends to not light up when you’re around
  • Decrease your caffeine consumption (caffeine and alcohol increases your urge to smoke- hopefully you’re not drinking, though)
  • Replace what would have been a cigarette with something else (gum, lollipops, mints)
  • Keep busy (the best way to avoid cravings is not to have time to think of it!)
  • Ask your friends and family to hold you accountable

When it comes to quitting-smoking aids (like nicotine patches), it really is seen as a last resort solution. Because things like the patch and gum release nicotine into the bloodstream in order to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, it is still viewed to be harmful to the baby. If all alternatives have been exhausted, though, this is a better (while not great) choice over smoking actual cigarettes.

Withdrawal symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Irritableness
  • Headaches
  • Increased hunger
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty concentrating

Remember that these are temporary symptoms and will be strong as first, but should go away (at least at this intensity) between 10 and 14 days. Reminding yourself of why you’re quitting and who you’re doing it for is a great way to get through this initial time. Having a calendar and marking the days that you’ve gone smoke-free is also a great visual way to see how far you’ve come and all that you’ve accomplished.

Quitting smoking is tough- don’t do it alone. Be open about your struggles and ask for support when you feel you need it. Once you get over that seemingly insurmountable hump, though, you’ll be able to do anything!

More in Incredible