Smoking and Pregnancy

It is a well-known fact that smoking, in general, is bad for one’s health. No doubt, smoking affects both genders in the same debilitating ways. In addition to negatively affecting the smoker, it can also have many harmful effects on the fetus during pregnancy. A recent survey found that about 16% of women in America continue smoking during their pregnancy. Unfortunately, this often results in low birth weight (LBW), sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or miscarriage.


Side Effects of Cigarettes During Fetal Development

Many harmful chemicals contained in tobacco smoke can affect the fetus from the very beginning of its development. More precisely, the process of cell division is impeded and does not occur, hindering this natural process. As a result, the fetus experiences insufficient brain cell division, cardiovascular problems, respiratory issues and low birth weight. Nicotine also contracts blood vessels limiting the blood flow to the unborn child.

Other side effects include:

  • Damaging of the placenta
  • Low oxygen levels
  • Increased fetal heart rate
  • Premature birth
  • Higher chances of stillbirth
  • Congenital disabilities such as a cleft lip or cleft palate
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
In the United States, women whose pregnancies were unintended are 30% more likely to smoke during pregnancy than those whose pregnancies were intended.
Eisenberg, Leon; Brown, Sarah Hart (1995). The best intentions: unintended pregnancy and the well-being of children and families.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Other Birth Defects


Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Other names for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) are crib death or cot death. It is the sudden death of a newborn during his/her sleep. Unfortunately, there aren’t any clear explanations for this phenomenon because scientists aren’t able to pinpoint the exact cause. Evidence indicates that the reason may lie in a combination of factors, including developmental problems, environmental stressors, and exposure to tobacco smoke.

Size and Weight

The infant’s size and weight largely depend on the mother’s health. Her lifestyle during the pregnancy also is a deciding factor in the development of the fetus. The baby may not grow normally if the mother is overstressed, eats unhealthily, and smokes regularly. A pack a day is enough to significantly stun the baby’s growth. While the idea of delivering a smaller baby may sound attractive to some, the damage can affect the child’s whole life.

Body and Lungs

Babies born with a low birth weight can suffer from inadequate respiratory capacity. This can mean they won’t be able to breathe on their own. These newborns usually have to spend a few weeks attached to a mechanical ventilator. When the baby is ready to breathe on its own, doctors will detach the machine. However, this doesn’t mean that the child won’t have breathing issues in the future. Furthermore, the harmful effects of nicotine make these children more prone to many conditions, varying from asthma to sudden death syndrome.

Other birth defects due to tobacco include:

  • Heart defects
  • Severe underdevelopment of the hands and feet—limb reduction defects
  • Digit anomalies
  • Clubfoot
  • Cleft lip or palate
  • Eye defects
  • Gastrointestinal defects, such as gastroschisis, anal atresia
  • Gallbladder and liver problems

The Impact of Tobacco on the Baby’s Future Health

Smoking doesn’t only harm the baby during fetal development. It continues to affect the child as it grows outside the womb after birth, through various physical and mental problems. These issues include:

  • Behavioral problems—Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Various learning disorders
  • Becoming smokers at an early age
  • Easily contracting colds, coughs, and middle-ear infections

Quitting Smoking During Pregnancy

Only about 20 percent of the women who smoke can quit during pregnancy.

Quitting cigarettes is a big sacrifice for most, and especially for those who have been addicts for a long time. However, no matter how big the sacrifice, the innocent unborn child deserves a clean slate from the start. The baby shouldn’t have to face the many health risks simply because a woman couldn’t stop smoking while pregnant.

When quitting, women need to realize the harm cigarettes have on them and their baby. After all, their body is no longer just theirs, but for the next nine months, they will be sharing it with a miracle growing inside them. Ultimately, their decision to quit or not is the deciding factor in whether the child may have serious health issues for the rest of their lives.


Tips to Quit Smoking During Pregnancy

How to quit smoking during pregnancy:

  • Don’t quit cold turkey.
  • Reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke in a day—quit gradually.
  • Use nicotine patches, gums and spray to avoid nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
  • Ask your doctor to prescribe medication that can help your quitting process.
  • Hypnosis and acupuncture are also great, non-invasive methods that help you to quit your tobacco addiction.

If you would like to learn more about the side effects of smoking during pregnancy visit government CDC site.

Tips on Quitting While Suffering from Morning Sickness

Nicotine withdrawal and pregnancy symptoms are somewhat alike. The skyrocketing hormonal high brings you a pool of emotions, lots of cravings, stress, discomfort, and nausea, and the sudden loss of nicotine in your brain makes you feel exactly the same things. Combined, these two can cause much stress and anxiety. On the other hand, some women may find comfort in cigarettes to ease their morning sickness, the latter being possibly heightened by the sudden smoking and nicotine cessation. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to cope with such a testing time. Here are a few:

  1. Focus on your baby. Admitting to yourself that you are indeed pregnant will give you more motivation to quit. Visiting your obstetrician at the soonest possible time will make you realize early on that you are indeed carrying another human in your body.

It is important to note that the stress that you can get from quitting cold turkey, or with the use of nicotine replacements, has zero to very minimal effects on the baby. Smoking to ‘cure’ your morning sickness simply keeps your nicotine levels up, damages your body, and is passed on to the developing fetus.

  1. As your body goes through many changes during your first trimester, same time as you quit smoking, make sure to get enough sleep and avoid stress. Quitting and early pregnancy symptoms both make you feel dizzy. When this happens, try to lie down or sit down comfortably without moving.
  2. Stay away from second-hand smoke. The latter will not only make you crave for another stick of cigarette but may ironically make you feel nauseous as well. On top of that, second-hand smoke is as harmful as first-hand smoke, so tell your partner not to smoke inside the house or anywhere near you.
  3. Eat small meals instead of three big and full ones. Keep some soda crackers to nibble on whenever you start feeling hungry. Hunger makes you feel more dizzy while eating large will make you feel full, which commonly triggers a smoker’s urge to light another stick. It also makes you want to throw up more.
  4. Eat oatmeal and fruits regularly. They are light, fibrous, and full of nutrients and known as foods that help quit smoking.
  5. Avoid drinking coffee or anything with caffeine, for that matter. Instead, a cup of hot ginger tea will save you from queasiness and alleviate your morning sickness. It also reduces nicotine and cigarette cravings.
  6. Avoid greasy, fatty, and overpoweringly tasty food. Vegetables, lightly seasoned meat, and some soup with hints of ginger and spice will help.
  7. Take your prenatal vitamins with folic acid, as this is essential in supporting the full and healthy development of the fetus. This will also help your body build your immune system as you leave behind your addiction for nicotine.

If still unable to quit, there is always to option to use nicotine replacements such as patches or gums. Wellbutrin is also used to help pregnant women in quitting smoking. Make sure to ask your doctor for professional advice before using them. Remember, though, that it only gets better in time. After your first trimester, which is also about three months after you quit, better days are coming. You will enjoy a healthy, guilt-free pregnancy without the cigarette cravings, the morning sickness, and the risk of getting a miscarriage.

Published: September 18, 2015 Updated: February 14, 2019



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