Smoking in pregnancy—I can’t quit, should I slow down?

Cigarette smoke is harmful to the health of pregnant women as well as their unborn babies.  Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals including nicotine, carbon monoxide, lead, cyanide and tar.  These chemicals enter the bloodstream, causing constriction of blood vessels and restriction of oxygen and nutrients.  Cigarette smoking involves the inhalation of toxins that damage the gums, throat, and lungs of pregnant women as well as the developing heart, lungs and brain of babies.  Smoking also causes asthma and other breathing conditions as well as eye problems and learning disorders. Cigarette smoking can lead to cancer, heart disease, stroke and gum disease in expectant mothers and birth defects in babies.

Pregnant women who smoke are at increased risk of complications such as vaginal bleeding, problems with the placenta, ectopic pregnancy, and stillbirth.  In conditions of oxygen shortage, babies do not grow and develop properly. Babies of smokers are more susceptible to premature delivery, low birth weight or underweight for the number of weeks of pregnancy. These babies are also usually underdeveloped and may have birth defects including cleft lip or palate.  Additionally, premature babies are susceptible to lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy, learning disabilities or in severe cases, death.

Pregnant women should not smoke or try to quit smoking as early as possible during pregnancy. Every cigarette smoked causes life-threatening effects for mothers and babies.  Although reducing the amount of smoking or switching to “mild” cigarettes does reduce exposure to the harmful effects of smoking, there is no substitute to quitting.  There are numerous benefits to quitting smoking, particularly during pregnancy. As soon as an expectant mother quits, her baby can begin growing and developing properly.  As well, as a nonsmoker, a pregnant woman can enjoy cleaner teeth, fresher breath, easier breathing and digestion, and higher energy levels.  Also, by quitting smoking, the deleterious effects on the lungs, heart, brain, gums and skin in expectant mothers and their babies, can be reduced and, in some cases reversed.

To stop smoking, pregnant women should practice healthy habits such as drinking water, exercising, snacking on raw vegetables or chewing gum, and encouraging oneself to adopt a healthy lifestyle change.  Pregnant women should also seek a medical doctor’s assistance with quitting. Prescription medications, patches, gum, and nasal sprays can greatly assist with cessation.  Additionally, many pregnant women have benefitted from counseling, hypnosis or acupuncture. The social support network of women is also vital to smoking cessation. Women should avoid the people, places, activities, and cues that cause them to want to smoke.  Finally, pregnant women should not allow others to smoke around them or their baby.  Secondhand smoke is also quite dangerous and leads to many of the same complications, such as breathing problems for expectant mothers and low birth weight for unborn babies.  As well, second hand smoke can lead to ear infections and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in newborns.

Mothers should take every precaution to provide a safe, smoke-free environment for their growing families.



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