Smoking in Pregnancy

Common Questions and Risk Factors

Smoking cigarette

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You've probably heard by now that smoking isn't the best thing for you. Now that you are pregnant or are considering becoming pregnant, it's even worse.

Problems With Smoking During Pregnancy

There are many things that we know about smoking during pregnancy. We know that the woman who smokes during her pregnancy has a baby who gets less food and oxygen than her non-smoking pregnant counterparts. We know that certain risk factors are increased for these women. These risk factors include:

  • You are more likely to have a miscarriage.
  • Your baby is more likely to die before birth.
  • Smoking can cause placenta previa (a dangerous situation where the placenta covers the cervix.)
  • It can cause a placental abruption (where the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus denying all oxygen to your baby.)
  • It increases your risk of a preterm birth. Babies born too early can suffer more breathing problems and have longer hospital stays.
  • It increases the chances of your baby learning difficulties as a child.
  • There is a higher incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS or crib death) in babies born to mothers who smoked or who are exposed to second-hand smoke after birth.

Now we even know that babies who have been exposed to smoking in the womb, even second-hand smoke, have more genetic defects.

What happens is as the woman smokes the baby and the placenta are deprived of oxygen and nutrients. The placenta then spreads further throughout the uterus, becoming thinner (increasing the risks of a placenta previa and placental abruption), trying to seek out more surface area of the uterus from which to draw oxygen and nutrient.

Because of this deprivation, the baby will tend to be smaller (low birth weight), which is associated with many problems of the baby, including poor lung functioning. This can also lead to preterm labor or premature rupture of the membranes because the body feels that the baby can no longer be fed properly.

We also know that smoking is an addiction. Women need support and assistance to quit smoking.

There are special programs available to pregnant women and those thinking about conceiving. Talk to your doctor or midwife about using medical help like the patches, while these still have nicotine to help with cravings, you are not getting the other harmful substances associated with smoking.

Some Common Questions

  1. What if you're already well into your pregnancy, is it worth it? Yes. No matter point in pregnancy you stop there are always great benefits to the baby and you. When the baby is born don't start back up; remember that second-hand smoke can lead to increased risk of crib death, more frequent colds, and ear infections, to name a few complications.
  2. What if you quit and your partner doesn't? Encourage them to quit with you, be support for each other if possible. If your partner doesn't quit then request that they smoke outside or away from the baby or areas where the baby dwells.
  3. Don't you want a smaller baby, and won't smoking help you have a smaller baby? Smoking will help you have a smaller baby. However, we do know that smaller babies have more problems, even when they are born close to their due dates. They tend to need to eat more, they sleep less, and will require more frequent hospitalization. It is also associated with Intrauterine Growth Retardation (IUGR).
  4. What about breastfeeding and smoking? Breastfeeding is so wonderful for your baby that it is generally recommended to continue breastfeeding even if you smoke. Although there are still risks to you and the baby from smoking. Quitting can be a wonderful gift for your baby. The patch is also approved for use during breastfeeding, talk to your doctor or midwife for more information.
  5. We just started planning for a baby. We are going to quit but how long should we wait? There are no clear-cut answers here. One recommendation is three months. That way you are over the more intense cravings during the rough first trimester and are feeling a bit more healthy in general.
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