Understanding the Dangers of Smoking during Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, MD
Smoking during pregnancy leads to a number of serious health problems for both a mother and her unborn child. In fact, smokers are at an increased risk of certain problems during pregnancy including:
  • Preterm labor - This means your labor begins before your 37th week of pregnancy, a full three weeks before your due date. A normal pregnancy lasts, on average, 40 weeks. This begins the first day of your last period. If you go into labor before your 37th week, it can be dangerous to your child. Preterm, or premature, babies may have some serious health issues.
  • Placenta problems - These problems may include a “placental abruption” or a “placenta previa”. A placental abruption occurs when the placenta separates from your uterus before you deliver your child. In a placenta previa, the placenta actually covers the opening of your cervix. In both cases, you may experience vaginal bleeding.
  • Miscarriage - This is when your pregnancy ends before your 20th week of pregnancy.
  • Stillbirth - This is when your baby dies before birth during the second half of your pregnancy, or rather, after the 20th week.

There are other problems with smoking during pregnancy, too. Babies born to women who smoked during pregnancy have an increased chance of being born premature, or too small. These babies may have problems with sleeping, feeding, seeing, hearing or breathing.
In addition, babies born to women who smoked during pregnancy have a greater chance of “sudden infant death syndrome”, or rather SIDS. This happens when a child dies before age one for no known reason.

Treatments to help stop smoking

If you need help to stop smoking, ask your nurse or doctor what they recommend. They may have some advice, or be able to recommend a support system or counselors you can call. An easy way to remember what other steps to take is by following the recommendations behind the word “START”.

S=Set a date for quitting
T=Tell friends, family members and others that you want to quit
A=Anticipate by planning ahead for the tougher times you’ll experience trying to quit
R=Remove all tobacco products from your car, home and your work
T=Talk to your nurse or doctor about where to turn for help quitting

The sooner you quit smoking during your pregnancy, the better it will be for both you and your child. However, stopping at all is better than never stopping. If you find yourself not able to quit, cutting down on the number of cigarettes you smoke can also help.
Remember too, don’t start smoking after you deliver your child. Kids exposed to second-hand smoke also have an increased risk of developing health problems like ear infections and colds. Quitting smoking is also good for you. It will decrease your chance of cancer and heart disease, as well as provide a positive role model for your child to follow.

Taking medicines to quit smoking

If you aren’t able to stop smoking on your own, you may be able to try a medicine. Remember to ask your doctor first, though, which is the safest for your unborn baby and for you. These include things like nicotine replacement therapy. Gum, lozenges, and skin patches are all on the market containing nicotine.

There are also puffers, or rather inhalers, and nasal spray, which come by prescription. Other prescription options include Bupropion. Found under the brands Wellbutrin or Zyban, this type of medicine helps reduce the desire you have to smoke. You’ll also probably find in in a generic, cheaper to buy than those sold under brand names.

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