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Smoking during pregnancy

Around 11% women in the UK continue to smoke during pregnancy up to the birth.

The dangers to unborn babies of mums smoking is well known, with the risk of lower birth weight, pre-term birth, placental complications and death of the baby before birth.

The NHS can help women quit smoking before they plan a pregnancy, or once they find out they are pregnant.

Smoking dangers for an unborn baby

Nicotine, carbon monoxide and other chemicals inhaled from a cigarette are carried through the bloodstream and go directly to the baby. Smoking while pregnant will:

  • Lower the amount of oxygen available to you and your growing baby
  • Increase your baby's heart rate
  • Increase the chances of miscarriage and stillbirth
  • Increase the risk that your baby is born prematurely and/or born with a low birth weight
  • Increase your baby's risk of developing respiratory or lung problems

The more cigarettes you smoke per day, the greater your baby's chances of developing these and other health problems. There is no "safe" level of smoking while pregnant.

How does secondhand smoke affect pregnancy?

Secondhand smoke - also called passive smoke - is the combination of smoke from a burning cigarette and smoke exhaled by a smoker.

The smoke that burns off the end of a cigarette or cigar actually contains more harmful substances (tar, carbon monoxide, nicotine, and others) than the smoke inhaled by the smoker.

If you are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, you increase your and your baby's risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, allergies, asthma, and other health problems.

Babies exposed to secondhand smoke may also develop reduced lung capacity and are at greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Can I use a nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) during pregnancy?

NRT is safer than smoking because unlike cigarettes, it doesn't contain tar and carbon monoxide.

Most pregnant women can use NRT safely during pregnancy, but they should check with their GP or midwife first.

They can assess the risks of continuing to smoke against the risks and benefits of using NRT instead to help quit smoking.

How will I feel when I stop smoking during pregnancy?

The benefits of not smoking start within days of stopping. After you stop, you and your baby's heartbeat will return to normal, and your baby will be less likely to develop breathing problems.

You may have symptoms of withdrawal because your body is used to nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes. You may crave cigarettes, be irritable, feel very hungry, cough often, get headaches, or have difficulty concentrating. The withdrawal symptoms are only temporary. They are strongest when you first stop but will go away within 10-14 days. When withdrawal symptoms occur, stay in control. Think about your reasons for stopping. Remind yourself that these are signs that your body is healing and getting used to being without cigarettes. Remember that withdrawal symptoms are easier to treat than the major diseases that smoking can cause.

Even after the withdrawal is over, expect periodic urges to smoke. However, these cravings are generally short-lived and will go away whether you smoke or not. Don't smoke!

If you relapse and smoke again do not lose hope. Of the people who stop, 75% relapse. Most smokers stop three times before they are successful. If you relapse, don't give up! Plan ahead and think about what you will do next time you get the urge to smoke.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 16, 2017

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