What to Know About Smoking During Pregnancy

Pregnant women who smoke face a lot of pressure. Your doctor or midwife tells you to quit. Maybe you feel you need cigarettes to get through the day. Maybe you feel stuck because smoking while you’re pregnant puts stress on your relationships, but trying to quit does too. Yet you can do it. You can quit smoking, and it will be tremendously positive for you and your baby.

It’s best if you stop smoking forever. If that seems too hard, then focus on quitting during your pregnancy. There are programs just for pregnant women. You don’t have to stop cold turkey. Even cutting back on smoking can reduce some risks. Make the effort for your baby and for yourself -- it’s worth it.

How Smoking Affects Your Baby

You’ve heard how unhealthy smoking is for you. Smoking also harms your developing baby in many ways. It puts unhealthy chemicals in your baby’s body and reduces his oxygen supply. When you smoke, your baby is more likely to be born early and tiny.

Babies who weigh less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces at birth are said to have a “low birth weight.” This means they have a greater chance of having trouble breathing, fighting off infection, and gaining weight. Some low-birthweight babies and almost all very low-birthweight babies (those under 3 pounds, 4 ounces) have to spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before they can go home.

Smoking also increases the chance your baby will have a birth defect like cleft palate or cleft lip. With these conditions, a baby’s mouth or lip does not form properly. It can interfere with his ability to eat and speak and usually requires surgery.

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How Smoking Affects You

You may smoke to help you face mental stress, but every cigarette increases the stress on your body. Women who smoke often have more medical problems when they’re pregnant:

A higher chance for placental abruption. That’s when the placenta peels away from the wall of your uterus too soon. It can cause serious bleeding or premature labor.

A higher chance for placenta previa. That’s when your placenta is in such a position that it could rupture during contractions and cause severe bleeding. That means you may need to stay in the hospital to try to delay your delivery. When you do give birth, you may need a C-section; regular vaginal delivery may be too dangerous.

Quitting before or during pregnancy lowers the chance that you’ll have one of these problems.

Secondhand Smoke

Even being exposed to secondhand smoke while you’re pregnant makes it likelier you will have a low-birthweight baby. So if your partner or another person living with you smokes, quit together.

You need to protect your baby from smoke even after she’s born. A baby exposed to cigarette smoke is more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). That’s when a baby less than a year old dies during sleep for no clear reason.

There is no safe level of secondhand smoke. Smoke travels through vents and under doors. Even very brief exposure can make breathing problems worse for babies. Here are some things you can do to reduce your baby’s exposure while you are pregnant and after your baby is born.

  • Don’t let anyone smoke in your house.
  • Don’t let anyone smoke in your car.
  • In colder weather, encourage smokers to use the same jacket whenever they smoke outdoors, and preferably leave it outside.
  • Keep your baby away from places where people smoke.

Quitting Is Hard, but Not Impossible

Now you know many reasons to stop smoking. Quitting is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health and your baby. Get help.

If you aren’t sure how, talk with your doctor or midwife. Many states have quit-smoking hotlines you can call. Your local hospital or health center also may have programs that help people quit without feeling judged. You may even be able to find a support group for pregnant moms. Check out the program “Forever Free for Baby and Me” under Smoking Issues: Free Resources on the smokefree.gov web site.

If you can’t quit altogether, even cutting back on how much you smoke is better for you and your baby than doing nothing.

Give yourself and your baby this gift of health. You can do it!

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Trina Pagano, MD on February 02, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "Tobacco Use and Pregnancy" and “Birth Defects, Facts about Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate.”

Health Resources and Services Administration: “Very Low Birth Weight.”

Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford: “Very Low Birthweight.”

March of Dimes: “Smoking during pregnancy,” “Placental abruption;” “Placenta previa;” “Low-Birth Weight;” and “Access to health coverage.”

Office on Women’s Health: "Smoking;” “Preconception Health;" and "Smoking and How to Quit: Secondhand Smoke."

National Cancer Institute, Smokefree.gov: “Health Consequences of Smoking;” “Myths about Smoking and Pregnancy;” and “Pregnancy.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, BeTobaccoFree.gov: "Tobacco Use Before, During, and After Pregnancy."

WinnipegHealthRegion.ca: “When smoke gets in your eyes ... and throat ... and lungs: Protect your health, avoid second hand smoke.”

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