Side Effects to Smoking While Pregnant
The smoke of one cigarette contains the poisonous gases of approximately 4,000 chemicals, some of which could kill or injure your baby and increase your risk of miscarriage. Among the many poisonous gases in cigarette smoke are nicotine, carbon monoxide, benzene, ammonia, and formaldehyde. The harmful side effects of smoking while pregnant increase with each cigarette smoked each day.
Robbing Babies of Nourishment
Many studies have shown that smoking while pregnant causes infants to have lower birth weights. The poisonous nicotine narrows uterine blood vessels, thus reducing blood flow to the baby in the womb. Less blood flow means less nourishment, and therefore, less growth for a premature baby.
Robbing Babies of Oxygen
Besides restricting blood flow to the womb, smoking while pregnant and breathing second-hand smoke decreases the amount of oxygen available to the baby from the blood. The level of carbon monoxide in the blood of pregnant women who smoke is 600 – 700 percent higher than in those who don’t smoke.
Carbon monoxide is an oxygen blocker, meaning it prevents blood cells from carrying a full load of oxygen. Lack of oxygen can affect the development of every organ in the baby’s body.
Injuring Little Brains
New studies suggest that the developing baby’s brain is injured not only by lack of oxygen, but also by the chemicals in cigarette smoke, which may be directly poisonous to developing brain cells. Children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy, especially those of mothers who smoked more than one pack a day, have been found to have a smaller head circumference as infants, decreased mental performance scores at 1 year old, reduced IQs and diminished academic performance scores in school compared to the children of mothers who did not smoke.
Passive Smoke Hurting the Baby
New research shows that when pregnant mothers are exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke, their babies are at risk of having lower birth weights and show an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), just as the babies of smoking mothers do. If the father and mother both smoke, the risk of SIDS is nearly double.
The bottom line is DO NOT SMOKE. If you are smoking while pregnant, seek help today and quit. It’s easier to quit than be faced with a baby who has problems because of maternal smoking—not to mention the guilt you will feel knowing this can injure the baby. Insist that those around you respect life—your growing baby—and not smoke in the same room with you.
If you work in a smoke-contaminated environment, ask for a reassignment (pregnant women have a legal right to work in a smoke-free environment).
8 Tips for Quitting Smoking While Pregnant
While it’s best to never smoke or to stop smoking before you become pregnant, the earlier you stop smoking, the healthier you and your baby are likely to be.
Smoking is not a habit, it’s an addiction. You can break habits fairly easily, but addictions are harder to kick. For quitting smoking while pregnant, try these suggestions:
1. Convince Yourself
The facts are solid—statistically, the chances are high that your pregnancy will be more complicated and your baby less smart and less healthy if you smoke while pregnant.
2. Try Stopping Cold Turkey
The best time to extinguish your last cigarette is the moment your pregnancy test turns positive, and some women do just that. Others find that quitting smoking while pregnant cold turkey can cause sudden cigarette withdrawal which makes them extremely anxious, and this is not good for baby either.
A gradual weaning may make more sense. Some “lucky” women find that a natural aversion to the smell of smoke forces the issue, and the quit.
3. Try Goal Setting
If you can’t quit on the first day you know you’re pregnant, set a goal for tapering off, say by day 10. Plan a reward for your efforts that day.
You might calculate how much money you would save in a year of not smoking and spend it on something special for yourself or your baby.
4. Cut Down on how much Poison You Inhale
As you attempt at quitting smoking while pregnant, try taking fewer puffs. Or smoke only the first half of the cigarette. (More poisons are concentrated toward the end of the cigarette.) Better still, don’t inhale. This can cut down your nicotine dose by a half.
5. Make It Inconvenient to Smoke
Buy only one pack at a time. Leave the pack somewhere inconvenient, like in the garage.
6. Fill the Void Left by Quitting Smoking While Pregnant
Think about what led you to start smoking. Once you identify the psychological reasons that may have led to this physiological addiction, the easier it might be for you to stop, or at least find a safer substitute habit.
7. Try Healthier Substitutes
If you need to hold something and keep your hands busy, try writing, drawing, painting or working crossword puzzles. If you need something in your mouth, try chewing on carrot or celery sticks, cinnamon sticks or straws, or try sucking on ice, healthy popsicles or hard candy. Nibble on sunflower seeds or granola.
Chew gum. If you smoked for relaxation, try listening to soothing music, reading or paying for an occasional massage. Take a walk. Go swimming. If you smoked for pleasure, indulge yourself in fun at a non-smoking place: go to a movie or a restaurant, go shopping, go visit a non-smoking friend.
8. Get Professional Help
If after two weeks you have made no progress on your own, you might want to contact a local quit-smoking resource or seek professional help to resolve deeper issues.
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 40 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. He has served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine, and University of California: Irvine. As a father of 8 children, he coached Little League sports for 20 years, and together with his wife Martha has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on over 100 television programs, including 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012. He is noted for his science-made-simple-and-fun approach to family health.