Through your pregnancy a few simple cells will grow to form your baby. Organs like the heart, lungs, and brain go through intense growth. You can imagine how important it is to have the right building blocks for all of this growth.
Your baby may seem well separated from the smoke in your lungs. However, chemicals from that smoke passes into your blood. From there they can reach your baby. These chemicals can cause serious illnesses in adults and children. They can also affect how the brain, lungs, heart, and other organs develop in the baby. Some health issues may be seen at birth. Others can show 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
There are more than 7,000 chemical in smoke from a cigarette. It is not clear how each chemical in smoke affects a growing baby. What is clear is that , mom's who smoke are more likely to have pregnancy problems such as:
- Early rupture of the membranes
- Placental problems, such as detachment, tearing, or slipping
- Premature births.
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 (ADHD)
- Congenital heart defects—problems with how the heart forms
Babies can have withdrawal symptoms from smoking after they are born. This can make your baby more jittery, nervous, and harder to soothe.
Nixing the Nicotine Need
Nicotine is the chemical in cigarettes that makes it so addicting. When you first quit smoking, your body withdraws from it. It can cause lightheadedness, depression, headaches, tiredness, and sleep problems. The first few days after you stop smoking can be tough. The good news is that the effects will pass. Keep this in mind as you get through the first week. It will get better.
Smoking is also a habit you have created. You may reach for a cigarette out of habit. When you feel an urge look for a way to distract yourself. Examples are:
- Get active. Go for a walk.
- 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 is ready to help quit.
- Think about your reasons for quitting. Keep the list or a reminder around so you can see it when the urge hits.
- Keep your hobby nearby. Crossword puzzles, reading a novel, and knitting.
Talk to others who have quit. Ask how they did it. Some programs and tools can also help you slowly decrease your nicotine levels. Nicotine replacement tools like gum or patches may not be safe while pregnant. Talk to your care team to find the choices for you.
It’s Never Too Late
The earlier you stop smoking the better for you and your baby. It is never too late to stop. 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
- Within just a couple of weeks, your blood flow and lungs improve
As you get healthier, so does your baby.
Make a plan to quit smoking:
- Start with a quit date.
- Look for times or places that trigger smoking. Avoid them when possible. Make plans for a distraction if you cannot avoid it.
- Let friends and family know you plan to quit.
- Remove triggers like ashtrays, cigarettes, or lighters. Give your house or car a clean out to remove any sign or smell of smoking.
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. Secondhand smoke can also be very harmful to babies and children.
If you tried to quit but started smoking again, try again. Write down what made you start again. Make a plan to address that trigger. 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
Cigarette smoking: Health risks and how to quit. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/quit-smoking-pdq. Updated March 15, 2019. Accessed November 14, 2019.
Secondhand smoke. Smoke Free website. Available at: https://smokefree.gov/understanding-smoking/secondhand-smoke. Accessed November 14, 2019.
Treatment for tobacco use. DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T905141/Treatment-for-tobacco-use. Updated September 4, 2018. Accessed November 14, 2018.
Why quit smoking now?. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/healthdisp/pdf/tipsheets/Why-Quit-Smoking-Now.pdf. November 14, 2019.
Why do you want to quit? Smoke Free website. Available at: https://smokefree.gov/quitting-smoking/reasons-quit/why-do-you-want-quit. Accessed November 14, 2019.
Smoking During Pregnany. CDC website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/health_effects/pregnancy/index.htm. January 25, 2018. Accessed November 14, 2019.
7/2/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114823/Common-symptoms-signs-and-laboratory-changes-in-pregnancy: Biering K, Aagaard Nohr E, Olsen J, Nybo Andersen AM, Juhl M. Smoking and pregnancy-related pelvic pain. BJOG. 2010;117(8):1019-1026.
7/6/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906521/Substance-use-and-exposure-in-pregnancy: Alverson CJ, Strickland MJ, Gilboa SM, Correa A. Maternal smoking and congenital heart defects in the Baltimore-Washington Infant Study. Pediatrics. 2011;127(3):e647-653.
Last reviewed May 2018 by James Cornell, MD Last Updated: 11/14/2019