Problems linked to smoking during pregnancies
|Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)||The baby does not grow well while in the uterus, and is smaller than normal.|
|Placental abruption||The placenta separates from the wall of the uterus, which can lead to a large amount of blood loss.|
|Placenta previa||The placenta can cover part of or the whole cervix, which can lead to bleeding.|
|Hypertension||High blood pressure in pregnancy is a risk to both mother and baby.|
|Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism||Smoking increases the chance of forming a blood clot in the veins of the legs. It is very dangerous if a clot breaks loose, as it can travel through the blood stream to the lungs.|
|Stillbirth||Smoking increases the risk of having the baby die in the uterus before birth.|
|Prematurity||Serious problems can result if a baby is born before the due date.|
|Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)||In this syndrome, babies die suddenly and a cause of the death cannot be found.|
Each cigarette builds up tar in your lungs. Nicotine, cyanide, sulphide, carbon monoxide and other cancer-causing chemicals enter the blood stream. The toxins pass through the placenta to your baby. Unfortunately, these poisons may reach even higher levels in your baby’s body than in your own.
Nicotine from cigarettes lowers the amount of blood flowing to a mother’s uterus (womb) and to the baby by 30 to 40 per cent. Less nutrients and oxygen reach the uterus, so the baby does not grow as well. Nicotine also affects the baby’s lungs and brain, and may damage these important organs.
Research shows smoking can cause many health problems for both mother and baby. Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to have a miscarriage or stillbirth. Smoking is also linked to severe bleeding in pregnancy, early or premature delivery, and babies that are too small. Cigarette smoking during pregnancy is the leading cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), where babies die unexpectedly when they are less than a year old.
Not all of the harmful effects that smoking has on pregnancy are known. The table at right lists some problems that can occur when women smoke while pregnant.
Most of the baby’s development happens in the first trimester, the first three months of pregnancy. This means the earlier a mother can quit smoking, the better it will be for her baby. Ideally, women should quit before getting pregnant, or early in the pregnancy.
Research shows that women who do not smoke in pregnancy have less chance of premature delivery or stillbirth. The same is true for women who stop smoking early in pregnancy. Quitting smoking at any time can help the mom and the baby.
The amount that a woman smokes also matters. The more cigarettes she smokes, the more likely she is to have problems. Even if she can’t quit completely, reducing the number of cigarettes will help her baby.
Many resources, from counselling to medications, are available to help quit smoking. However, not all are safe to use while pregnant. It may be best to try quitting without medications first.
A good first step towards quitting is to develop a support network. Include family members, friends, coworkers, and your doctor or midwife. Ask your team to provide tips encouragement when quitting gets tough.
Choose a stop date to give more focus to your goal.
Think about what you will cope with cravings. It is good to have a plan before those cravings hit! Talk to your doctor and support team. Finding ways to deal with cravings is essential in helping to quit smoking.
Many studies show that counselling can help pregnant moms quit smoking. Counselling supports the mother, is safe for the developing baby, and is commonly used. Ask your doctor or midwife for a referral.
Consider hypnosis, another technique for quitting that has no effect on the developing baby.
Studies show that exercise can also play a role in helping pregnant women to quit smoking. More studies are needed to determine how much and what type of exercise is best. Most doctors and midwives advise exercise during pregnancy anyway, as it is a good way to stay healthy and avoid problems.
Nicotine replacement therapy, also known as NRT, is a common tool for quitting smoking. A nicotine inhaler, gum, patch or lozenge is used instead of a cigarette. Rather than the full range of toxins and cancer-causing chemicals in a cigarette, only nicotine is delivered. However, studies show that nicotine from NRT breaks down faster in women who are pregnant compared to those who are not. It does not stay in the body very long. This means NRT is less likely to help pregnant women, because it disappears so fast. For this reason, and because nicotine is still damaging, NRT is not often recommended during pregnancy. However, if it is the only way to quit, it is better to use NRT than to keep smoking.
Nicotine can also be inhaled through electronic or e-cigarettes. Some people use e-cigarettes to help quit smoking or to avoid the toxic substances in cigarettes. While there are fewer harmful ingredients in an e-cigarette, some still contain nicotine. As well, some of the flavourings used in e-cigarettes might harm a developing baby. E-cigarettes are relatively new, so we still do not know whether they really help people quit smoking. Like NRT, using e-cigarettes is not advised for pregnant women.
Certain medications can help people quit smoking. Champix falls into this category, as does the antidepressant Zyban (Wellbutrin). However, too few studies have been done to know how safe these medications are for a developing baby. For this reason, they are not recommended during pregnancy.
Second-hand smoke is also a concern. Almost four per cent of non-smoking Canadians over the age of 12 are exposed to second-hand smoke in the home. If you are breathing in a large amount of second-hand smoke, it can cause the same problems that it would if you were smoking.
Family, friends and co-workers should not smoke around pregnant women. If you are pregnant, avoid being in smoky places as much as possible. This protects your health, as well as that of your baby.
No matter what age you are, smoking poses a risk to your health. Smoking during pregnancy can affect an unborn baby even more than the mother.
While there are many ways to quit, only some of them are safe for pregnant women. If you smoke and are pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, quitting is a good idea. Talk to your doctor or midwife, family, and friends about ways to safely quit smoking. Create a support network and set a quit date, and consider tools such as counselling. With help, you can take steps to protect yourself and your baby from the dangers of cigarette smoke.