The dangers of smoking while pregnant

November 13, 2015 | by Julie Jensen, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

You wouldn’t intentionally put your baby in harm’s way. But if you smoke while pregnant, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Every time you smoke during pregnancy, you put your baby’s health at risk.

Cigarette smoke contains toxins which get into your bloodstream — your baby’s only source of oxygen and nutrients. With every puff of a cigarette, two especially harmful compounds, nicotine and carbon monoxide, work together to reduce your baby’s oxygen supply. The effect is like forcing your little one to breathe through a narrow straw. The consequences can be devastating to your baby’s growth and development.

If you still aren’t convinced, we’ll spell it out for you. Here are the dangers of smoking while pregnant:

  • High risk of miscarriage - Studies suggest a relationship between tobacco and miscarriage, as tobacco smoke contains chemicals that can harm unborn babies.
  • Premature delivery and stillbirth - Pregnant smokers have a much greater risk of a premature delivery — the leading cause of death, disability and disease among newborns. Smoking more than doubles the risk of stillbirth.
  • Low birth weight - Smoking during pregnancy doubles the chances of having a low birth weight baby; and low birth weight babies are more likely to have serious, lifelong health problems.
  • Underdeveloped bodies – Babies born to smokers may have underdeveloped bodies and even birth defects, such as cleft lip/palate.
  • Lung damage – Smoking during pregnancy can cause babies to have delayed lung development and be vulnerable to asthma and continued breathing problems.
  • Heart defects - Babies born to mothers who smoked are more likely to have a heart defect at birth.
  • Brain damage - Smoking during pregnancy can have lifelong effects on a baby's brain, and result in learning disorders and behavioral problems later.
  • SIDS – Both babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy and those exposed to secondhand smoke after birth have double or even triple the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

After your baby is born, secondhand smoke can continue to cause problems. Infants exposed to smoke have more breathing problems, respiratory infections, allergies, stomach upset, difficulty keeping warm, ear infections, and eye and nasal irritation.

There is no safe level of smoking. Even a “light” habit can have devastating effects on your baby’s health. Quitting is one of the best things you can do for you and your little one.

Ideally, you should quit before you trying to conceive, as smoking lowers your chances of getting pregnant by about 40 percent. But even if you’re already pregnant, it’s never too late to quit. As soon as you stop smoking, your baby will start getting the oxygen he/she needs to grow. If your partner smokes, you should encourage them to quit along with you, to decrease the risks of secondhand smoke to your baby both during your pregnancy and after your baby is born.

It’s not always easy to give up the habit, so talk with your doctor about ways to quit. Remember, quitting smoking does not put extra stress on your baby. And even if you feel calmer when smoking, the results inside your body, as we’ve learned, are quite different.

If you don’t decide to quit smoking for yourself, do it for your baby.

Need help to quit smoking? The Freedom from Smoking classes offered by Edward-Elmhurst Health can give you the support you need to quit for good.

Get resources to quit smoking today and get help to stay smoke-free.

Julie Jensen, MD, is an OB-GYN at DuPage Medical Group.


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