Pregnancy and Quitting Smoking

Anne Mitchell Health Guide
  • Having a child is usually a time of joy and anticipation. But if the woman is a smoker, she will be forced to deal with her nicotine addiction in addition to all of the physical changes that pregnancy brings. She is sure to know that smoking is not healthy for her or her baby. But what if she simply can’t find a way to quit?

    Smoking among pregnant women has been declining in recent years. Increased awareness of the harm smoking causes to an unborn child is certainly a key factor, but some of this reduction may be because pregnant smokers are less likely to report that they smoke because of the stigma attached to it.

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    The proportion of pregnant smokers who smoke heavily is also in apparent decline; however, the total number of pregnant smokers is still devastatingly high, even though smoking during pregnancy is widely known to cause health complications and sometimes life-threatening conditions.

    Smoking increases the risk of developing disorders that can lead to hemorrhaging and death for both mother and baby, such as a premature rupturing of the membranes, abruptio placentae, and placenta previa. Pregnant smokers are also less likely to carry their babies to full term.

    Ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of maternal death in the first trimester and occurs more often among smokers than among nonsmokers.

    Miscarriages among smokers appear to be dose-related, with heavier smokers being more likely to suffer miscarriage. Stillbirths are another risk factor found to be increased among smokers.

    Many chemicals in cigarettes are toxic or even deadly for the fetus, including nicotine and carbon monoxide. Getting enough oxygen and nutrients is more difficult for the baby in this polluted environment. One consequence can be low birth weight, which carries health risks ranging from neurosensory disabilities to cognitive and developmental delays. There can also be an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

    There is evidence that the smoking status of the father also plays an important role in the health of the baby. Since the sperm supplies 50 percent of the child’s genetic material, it makes sense that there might be problems if the man smokes.

    When a pregnant woman lives with a smoker, her exposure to second-hand smoke can pose a serious health risk for both her and her baby. Low birth weight and fetal death are only two of many possible negative outcomes.

    There are also limited studies showing a relationship between maternal and paternal smoking and increased rates of some congenital malformations, including cleft palate and urogenital or gastrointestinal defects.

    Hopefully, education will continue to make a difference in how many women choose not to expose their unborn children to these risks.

    There is one encouraging trend: Women are more likely to quit smoking during pregnancy than at any other time in their lives.


    On a personal note, I quit smoking during my pregnancy with the exception of a few very short and very guilt-ridden relapses. I was fortunate that my child was not affected, but I knew I was playing with fire.


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    Once my daughter was born, I continued to be mostly a non-smoker but still found myself relapsing every few months or so. I was finally able to give it up for good right before she turned 3 years old. I am so grateful to have that behind me now. It's simply awful how our best intentions can be undermined by this terrible addiction.

    If you are pregnant and trying to quit smoking, I pray that you find it within yourself to put the cigarettes aside until after your child is born. And if you are smarter than I was, you will not give in to any lingering urges to relapse.


    To help you get on the path to a smoke-free motherhood, see Preparing to Quit Smoking.


    Excerpts from Give It Up! Stop Smoking for Life provided with permission from author and publisher.

Published On: March 11, 2009