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.
Risks for Mother and Baby ^
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 may include:
- Early rupture of the membranes
- Placental problems, such as detachment, tearing, or slipping
- Premature births—If you quit smoking soon after becoming pregnant, your risk of having a premature birth becomes similar to that of mothers who are nonsmokers.
Smoking while pregnant also puts your baby at a higher risk for serious complications such as:
- Being born underweight
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder
- Congenital heart defects
Nixing the Nicotine Need ^
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:
- Participate in activities. Go for a walk or try relaxation techniques like deep breathing.
- Drink water.
- Nibble on a healthy snack like vegetables or fruits.
- Suck on a hard piece of candy.
- Call someone who supports you in your goal to quit.
- Think about your reasons for quitting—your baby, financial reason, your own health. Everyone is motivated by personal reasons. Find what works for you.
- Have a hobby handy that you can do right away whenever a craving hits. Some hobbies to try are crossword puzzles, reading a novel, and knitting.
Talk to others who 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 healthcare provider 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.
It’s Never Too Late ^
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:
- Within minutes your heart rate and blood pressure drop
- Within 12 hours carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal (carbon monoxide decreases oxygen level in your body; it is a chemical that is also found in car exhaust)
- Within just a couple of weeks, your circulation and lungs improve their function
As you get healthier, so does your baby.
Make a plan to quit smoking:
- Start with a quit date.
- Look for situations that tend to trigger smoking and avoid them or make plans for a distraction.
Assess your emotional reasons for smoking. You may actually find that smoking adds to your problems instead of providing relief. For example:
- You may smoke to relax, but it may actually be more stressful to find time, location, and money to smoke.
- You may smoke as a way to socialize, but smoking is now less socially accepted and you will often have to spend time away from the group when you smoke.
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 to smoke outside.
Keeping the Air Clear ^
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 who 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
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Canadian Lung Association
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada
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Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 9/13/2013