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Smoking and pregnancy

Sarah Horrocks
by Sarah Horrocks Published on 18 February 2008
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We all know that tobacco is a health risk to smokers, but what about the dangers for unborn babies? Read up on the harmful effects of smoking, plus advice to help you quit.

Only one in six women who smoke quit when they are pregnant.* As if tobacco isn't enough of a health risk to smokers, it's even more dangerous to an unborn baby.

Smoking puts your unborn baby's life in danger
If you're expecting and you smoke, for the health of your baby and yourself you should give up immediately. If it's impossible to give up, cut down as much as you can. The consequences are far too severe not to be taken seriously: the chemicals that cigarettes contain pass straight through the placenta to your unborn baby. The baby has no protection against their deadly effects.

- Smoking increases the risk of miscarriage
The risks vary according to the amount a woman smokes while pregnant. Women who smoke over 20 cigarettes a day have a 20% higher risk of miscarriage than non-smokers. For women who smoke over 30 cigarettes a day, the risk increases to 35%. And don't forget the dangers of passive smoking.

- Smoking increases the risk of premature birth
Smoking during pregnancy increases your risk of giving birth to a premature baby. Women who smoke are far more likely to experience membrane rupture before the 34-week term, and even if the membranes stay intact, the risk of premature birth doubles for smokers.

The harmful effects don't stop at birth
- Underweight babies
Babies whose mothers smoke can suffer from delayed growth in the womb (the risk of giving birth to an underweight baby doubles for smokers). The average weight of a baby born to a smoker is 300g less than that of a baby born to a woman who does not smoke.
In detail:
Smoking 1 cigarette a day reduces the baby's weight at birth by 10-20g
Smoking up to 5 cigarettes a day reduces the baby's weight by 100g
Smoking up 20 cigarettes a day reduces the baby's weight by 458g
Passive smoking can reduce the baby's weight by 100g
- Reduced immunity
If you smoke, or are regularly exposed to cigarette smoke, your baby will have a genetic weakness at birth and after birth, and will be far less resistant to infections.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or cot death
Carbon monoxide and nicotine are extremely dangerous substances. They cause an increase in heart palpitations and blood pressure, and reduce oxygen and food supply to your unborn baby. There is also a high risk of asthma. Don't forget that the risk of cot death is four times higher for babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy.

To help you stop
Pregnant women have more than a good incentive to stop. If you want to stub out your last cigarette and have a healthy pregnancy, there are lots of aids that can help you along the way to going smoke-free. Your midwife can refer you to smoking cessation support where you may be prescribed nicotine patches or other replacements: these should be used with care. If you don't want to use NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy), find some other aid or treat system to help you quit. Don't make yourself feel guilty: concentrate on understanding the roots of your addiction. Your midwife can provide you with psychological support. Quitting smoking is the purest proof of your love for your unborn child, and after the birth of your baby, don't start again - a smoke-free you is better for you, your baby and all concerned.

* source: British Medical Journal.

by Sarah Horrocks

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