Pregnancy and Smoking

Smoking during pregnancy is very unhealthy for the mother and the developing fetus. The addictive drug in cigarettes (nicotine), carbon monoxide, and many other poisons are inhaled from a cigarette and are carried through your bloodstream to your fetus. Cigarette smoke contains more than 2,500 chemicals. It is not known which of these chemicals are harmful to the developing fetus. However, both nicotine and carbon monoxide play a role in causing health problems in pregnancy.

Effects on the fetus of smoking during pregnancy:

  • Decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the uterus, placenta, and your fetus.

  • Increased heart rate of the fetus.

  • Slowing of your fetus's growth in the uterus (intrauterine growth retardation).

  • Placental problems. Placenta may partially cover or completely cover the opening to the cervix (placenta previa), or the placenta may partially or completely separate from the uterus (placental abruption).

  • Increase risk of pregnancy outside of the uterus (tubal pregnancy).

  • Premature rupture membranes, causing the sac that holds the fetus to break too early, resulting in premature birth and increased health risks to the newborn.

  • Increased risk of birth defects, including heart defects.

  • Increased risk of miscarriage.

Newborns born to women who smoke during pregnancy:

  • Are more likely to be born too early (prematurely).

  • Are more likely to be at a low birth weight.

  • Are at risk for serious health problems, chronic or lifelong disabilities (cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning problems), and possibly even death

  • Are at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

  • Have higher rates of miscarriage and stillbirth.

  • Have more lung and breathing (respiratory) problems.

Long-term effects on a child's behavior:

Some of the following trends are seen with children of smoking mothers:

  • Increased risk for drug abuse, behavior, and conduct disorders.

  • Increased risk for smoking in adolescent girls.

  • Increased risk for negative behavior in 2-year-olds.

  • Increase risk for asthma, colic, and childhood obesity, which can lead to diabetes.

  • Increased risk for finger and toe disorders.

Resources to stop smoking during pregnancy:

  • Counseling.

  • Psychological treatment.

  • Acupuncture.

  • Family intervention.

  • Hypnosis.

  • Medicines that are safe to take during pregnancy. Nicotine supplements have not been studied enough. They should only be considered when all other methods fail.

  • Telephone QUIT lines.

Smoking and Breastfeeding:

  • Nicotine gets passed to the infant through a mother's breastmilk. This can cause nausea, colic, cramping, and diarrhea in the infant.

  • Smoking may reduce milk supply and interfere with the let-down response.

  • Even formula-fed infants of mothers who smoke have nicotine and cotinine (nicotine by-product) in their urine.

Other resources to help stop smoking:

  • American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org

  • American Heart Association: www.americanheart.org

  • National Cancer Institute: www.cancer.gov

  • Smoke Free Families: www.smokefreefamilies.org

  • Great Start (QUIT Line): 1-866-66 START