Adverse effects smoking has on health on the individual are widely known and well documented, but the same can be said for smoking during pregnancy which is known to pose a serious risk to the health of the child. Not only are there clear and direct threats to the wellbeing of the child during the course of the pregnancy and immediately after birth, but studies have also shown that smoking in pregnancy can lead to serious long-term consequences. This is why, as all medical experts all over the world claim, it is imperative that the mother stops smoking as soon as possible and thus ensures the safety of her child. What’s more, doctors agree that if a couple is planning to have a baby, the mother should stop smoking even before the conception to minimize the risks as much as possible.
What’s on this page?
Smoking before pregnancy
All medical experts agree that it is ideal that the women who plan to get pregnant quit smoking before conception and be free from nicotine for at least a month before trying to get pregnant. This is important because nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it causes the blood vessels to contract, and that includes the ones in placenta, umbilical cord and the baby itself. As a result, the flow of oxygen to the baby can be severely limited, leading to many adverse effects that can manifest both immediately after birth and later in life. This is why just quitting smoking isn’t enough – nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs for short) are also not recommended since they still introduce nicotine to the mother’s system.
One should keep in mind that risks presented by smoking during pregnancy are very severe and should never be underestimated. For once, smoking reduces the chances of conception in the first place, according to some studies even by 40%. But, dangers for the baby are even more severe – from different complications of pregnancy to miscarriage, birth defects and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS for short). However, after quitting smoking, the risks exponentially decrease, so the sooner you quit before getting pregnant, the complications caused by nicotine and tobacco smoke are less likely to occur.
Smoking during pregnancy
The greatest risks for the baby come from smoking during pregnancy. By doing this, you are directly introducing nicotine into your system, and by extension, to the child’s system, limiting its access to oxygen and other crucial resources for successful and healthy development. The statistic survey from 2011 paints a grim picture – in the developed countries, up to 11% of mothers smoke during the last three months of pregnancy despite the well-documented risks and dangers for the baby.
Smoking during pregnancy adversely affects the child both before and after it is born. Cigarette smoke contains 4000 harmful chemicals and more than 60 cancer-causing chemicals and that fact alone should be enough to demonstrate the absolute necessity of quitting smoking during pregnancy. The effects of smoking on the unborn child can be very severe and include lowering the amount of oxygen available to the baby and increasing the baby’s heart rate which in turn increases the risk of congenital heart defects by up to 70%.
At the same time, smoking while pregnant increases the chances of miscarriage and stillbirth, the risk that the baby is born prematurely and with low weight, the baby’s potential for developing respiratory problems and complications, birth defects and even SIDS. It has even been documented that smoking while pregnant can lead to serious problems with the placenta, including the premature separation from the womb which causes bleeding which is dangerous and can be lethal for both mother and the child.
What’s more, the studies have shown that the chance for developing these and other health problems is directly related to the number of cigarettes the mother smokes during pregnancy, so it is of vital importance that that amount is, at least, reduced. However, one should keep in mind that there is no “safe amount” – the only way to be confident that you did all in your power to ensure the well-being of your unborn child is to quit smoking for good.
Experts in the medical community have labelled smoking cigarettes as a “number one cause of adverse outcomes for babies”, pointing to the huge amounts of harmful chemicals that are introduced into the mothers body via cigarette smoke, including cyanide, lead and of course, nicotine and carbon monoxide, the two toxins that account for most documented smoking-related complications in pregnancy.
Probably the most harmful effect of those compounds on the baby’s health, especially during the early stages of pregnancy is the severe limitation of the oxygen available for its growth. Countless studies have shown that this limitation leads to some of the most common smoking-related pregnancy complications including low birth weight, premature delivery and stillbirth. This is related not only to the fact that nicotine contracts the blood vessels in placenta and umbilical cord, thus reducing baby’s access to both oxygen and nutrients but also because the red blood cells which usually carry oxygen in smokers start to pick up molecules of carbon monoxide instead. Through this mechanism, smoking in pregnancy causes some of the most serious adverse effects on the baby’s health so if you’re serious about keeping your baby safe, there is no alternative to giving up your bad habit for good.
It is worth noting that quitting smoking at any point during pregnancy is far more beneficial than continuing to smoke throughout the entire 9 months, especially since the likelihood of complications is directly related to the number of cigarettes smoked during pregnancy. This is why doctors especially recommend quitting smoking during the first trimester when fetus is most vulnerable to risks and dangers posed by the introduction of nicotine and carbon monoxide into the system.
Effects of smoking during pregnancy on the child after birth
Due to the lack of oxygen caused by nicotine’s contraction of blood vessels and the introduction of carbon monoxide into the baby’s system instead of oxygen can lead to several conditions which are manifested or noticed only after birth.
Most often, the result is that the babies born to smokers are born too early and with a lower weight which in turns leads to the weaker immune system and a higher chance for diseases and even death of the infant. It has been documented that premature birth and low birth weight are directly related chronic and lifelong disabilities such as cerebral palsy, learning difficulties and even mental retardation.
What’s more, it has been found that infants exposed to cigarette smoke both during pregnancy and after birth are more at risk of sudden infant death syndrome due to increased levels of nicotine often found in SIDS cases. Infants whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are up to three times more likely to die of SIDS than children born to non-smoking mothers.
Aside from this, smoking in pregnancy is also related to the risk of a number of birth defects, including cardiovascular and heart defects, musculoskeletal defects, eye defects, hernia and many others, but it also increases the risk of several illnesses which can develop later in life, especially during the teenage years, such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
Smoking after pregnancy
When it comes to smoking after pregnancy, there are two primary concerns – the impact of nicotine on breastfeeding and the adverse impact of second-hand smoke on the health of the new-born. Regarding the first concern, the studies have shown that even if the mother continues to smoke after giving birth, it is still more beneficial to breastfeed than to substitute this practice with feeding the baby with a formula. In short, doctors agree that benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks of nicotine exposure.
However, this does not mean that breastfeeding is completely safe and unproblematic when the mother is smoking. For one, studies have shown that smoking can adversely affect lactation, reducing the daily milk output by up to 300ml as well as milk iodine content. What’s more, nicotine is transmitted through milk, so the infant is receiving a dose of nicotine with every feeding. Thus, quitting smoking is still highly recommended.
When it comes to passive smoking, the results of the studies are clear and simple – as with smoking during pregnancy, there is no safe limit when it comes to baby’s exposure to second-hand smoke. In fact, it is of absolute importance that, after birth, home is kept completely smoke-free as exposure to tobacco smoke is known to increase the risk of SIDS and respiratory diseases and complications such as asthma, lung infections, impaired lung function and slowed lung growth. According to some studies, infant’s exposure to second-hand smoke can even lead to learning difficulties and neurobehavioral effects later in the child’s life.
What countless studies show is clear – nicotine, carbon monoxide and up to 4000 chemicals present in tobacco smoke, including more than 60 cancer-causing ones present a clear and direct threat to the wellbeing of the child, both before and after birth, and the only way to ensure the complete safety of your child is to quit smoking for good. Smoking during pregnancy can lead to very serious complications and diseases and have severe consequences for the life of the baby. What’s more, child’s exposure to second-hand smoke after birth is also directly related to a number of very dangerous diseases and complications and there is simply no alternative to quitting smoking if you wish to ensure that your baby is healthy.
However, behind the grim statistics and facts presented in this article, there is also a positive side – you can still prevent all this and ensure a healthy life for your child by simply stopping smoking. What’s more, the direct relationship between the number of cigarettes smoked during pregnancy and the likelihood of these disorders and complications means that by stopping at any time during pregnancy, you are still improving the chances that your baby is born safely and is healthy. Numerous studies have shown that mothers who quit smoking during the first trimester of pregnancy raise the odds of delivering a healthy baby to about the same as that of the non-smoker, and even the mothers who quit in the second trimester raise the odds, although to the lesser extent.
However, nicotine addiction is a serious problem that cannot be easily solved. If you’re planning to get pregnant, it is highly recommended that you quit smoking before attempting to conceive, so you can start your pregnancy completely nicotine-free. The best course of action is that you consult with your doctor about recommended treatments and therapies that can help you give up your bad habit and ensure a healthy and safe life, both for you and for your baby.