Smoking and pregnancy: Understand the risks
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Mar 17, 2020.
Smoking and pregnancy don't mix well — but you can take steps to boost your odds of quitting for good. Start by getting answers to the most common questions about smoking during pregnancy.
How does smoking during pregnancy affect a baby?
Smoking during pregnancy exposes you and your baby to many harmful chemicals, which limit the baby's supply of oxygen and the delivery of nutrients. Nicotine permanently damages a baby's brain and lungs. Smoking during pregnancy has also been linked with many health problems, including:
- Problems with the placenta
- Premature birth
- Birth defects
- Low birth weight
- Pregnancy loss
Smoking during pregnancy can also affect a baby after he or she is born, increasing the risk of:
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Childhood obesity
How does exposure to secondhand smoke affect pregnancy?
Breathing secondhand smoke during pregnancy can also affect your baby's health, increasing the risk of:
- Low birth weight
- Asthma attacks
- Ear infections
Is the use of electronic cigarettes (vaping) safe during pregnancy?
Vaping during pregnancy isn't safe.
Most electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) contain nicotine, which permanently damages a baby's developing brain and many other organs. E-cigarettes also contain flavorings that might not be safe for your baby.
Can quitting smoking during pregnancy reduce a baby's health risks?
Absolutely. If you smoke, quitting is the best way to give your baby a healthy start. Quitting smoking at any point during pregnancy can help. But quitting before week 15 of pregnancy provides the greatest benefits for your baby, and quitting before your third trimester can eliminate much of the potential impact on your baby's birth weight.
What can I do to quit smoking?
Deciding to quit is the first step. Start by consulting your health care provider for advice or seek counseling. Next, get rid of all smoking materials and make your home and car smoke-free spaces. Avoid situations that make you want to smoke. Spend time with people who don't smoke, and visit places where smoking isn't allowed. Turn to friends and family for support. Set a goal and create a reward for meeting it. For instance, if you quit for a certain length of time, use what you would have spent on cigarettes to buy something for the baby.
Is it safe to use stop-smoking products during pregnancy?
Talk to your health care provider about the risks and benefits of using nicotine replacement products — such as a nicotine patch or inhaler or nicotine gum, lozenges or nasal spray. Considering the known harms of continuing to smoke during pregnancy and the benefits of quitting, nicotine replacement products might be an option for those who are unable to quit or who are at high risk of continuing to smoke. This might include those who smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day, those who are smoking later in pregnancy, and those who have been unsuccessful in a previous attempt to stop smoking.
Many nicotine replacement products are available over-the-counter. Start with the lowest dose possible. If you choose to use the nicotine patch, minimize your baby's exposure to nicotine by removing the patch while you sleep. As your cravings and withdrawal symptoms fade, work with your health care provider to gradually reduce the nicotine replacement over time.
If you'd rather use a non-nicotine medication to stop smoking during pregnancy, the antidepressant bupropion (Zyban) might be an option. Work with your health care provider to weigh the risks and benefits.
Is postpartum relapse common?
Adjusting to life with a newborn can be stressful. Many women who quit smoking during pregnancy relapse shortly after giving birth. Seek counseling for support.
If you smoke after giving birth, don't smoke near your baby or in any enclosed spaces where your baby will be, such as in your home and car. If you smoke and breast-feed your baby, keep in mind that he or she will be exposed to nicotine and other substances through your breast milk.
If you have stopped smoking but continue to use nicotine replacement while breast-feeding, use a shorter acting product such as gum or lozenges. Pump and discard breast milk you produce for three hours after using the product.
Stopping smoking is rarely easy. It might take more than one try to quit for good. Remember, however, it can be done — and your family will reap the benefits.