Know the risks – Smoking and pregnancy

Smoking or being exposed to cigarette smoke during pregnancy can have serious consequences. In the UK, the risks of smoking are well known, but there are particular and important considerations for pregnant women regularly exposed to smoke and mothers-to-be who smoke.

Decisions will need to be made and steps taken to help reduce or, preferably, stop the exposure, so that you can give your baby the best chance for a healthy start to life.

Second-hand smoke or passive smoking

Many women find they become very sensitive to certain smells during pregnancy and smoke is one odour that they just can’t stand. Smoke-filled rooms and places where smokers may congregate are best avoided.

It is also known that pregnant women exposed to second-hand smoke are at increased risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. The more you are exposed the greater the risks become to you and your baby. If you live with someone who smokes or are regularly in an environment where you passively inhale tobacco smoke, you may need to discuss the risks and potential effects together and work out how you can avoid this exposure.

Smoking and its effects during pregnancy

If you are a smoker and expecting a baby, it can have a significant and harmful effect on your baby’s development and health, so finding a way to quit is a good idea. This might not be easy, but if you are able to persevere, your baby’s development, both now and in the future will benefit considerably .

It is always best to try to stop smoking before you conceive, but quitting smoking in pregnancy will make a difference, whatever stage you’re at. Of course, the earlier in the pregnancy that you decide to stop smoking, the better the outcomes will be for you and your baby’s health.

The complications associated with smoking during pregnancy can be serious and if you continue, you and your baby will be at higher risk of:

  • ectopic pregnancy
  • cleft lip
  • low birth weight
  • miscarriage
  • placental abruption – when the placenta detaches from the uterus
  • premature birth
  • vaginal bleeding

The effects of having smoked to full term during pregnancy will also create an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), more commonly known as cot death. Your baby may also be susceptible to respiratory problems when they are born.

Remember, each time you smoke a cigarette during pregnancy, 4,000 chemicals are inhaled, released into the lungs and then enter the bloodstream. Nicotine, carbon monoxide and various harmful gases will then be passed through the placenta and umbilical cord, which is how your baby gets the nutrients and oxygen required for growth and healthy development.

Smoking just one cigarette is the equivalent of your baby being in a smoke-filled room for 15 minutes. During this time exposure to the poisons from the inhaled smoke will starve your baby of oxygen and cause distress.

Stop smoking as soon as possible

In recent years in the UK, more and more pregnant mothers who smoke have been encouraged and supported in their attempts to stop smoking and in many cases have succeeded. According to the Government’s Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) just over 10% of mothers-to-be remain smokers through to their time of delivery in England and this figure is reducing all the time. Your midwife and doctor will be happy to discuss programmes that are free and available through the NHS to help you to quit.

Some pregnant smokers use e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking tobacco. However, the NHS recommends that expectant mothers struggling to give up smoking use approved and licensed medications designed to reduce withdrawal symptoms, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).

Trying to quit smoking is likely to be a stressful for you, and at times you might want to give in, but do keep trying if you can. The benefits of not smoking will make a real difference to your baby.

Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.