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First trimester

How smoking affects your unborn baby

26 May 2021 | By Robyn MacLarty

You understand that smoking is harmful to your health, but you may be unaware of the impact it can have on your pregnancy – and yes, that includes vaping.


Whether you’re a committed daily smoker, a social smoker, or you can’t leave home without your vape, chances are you’re either planning to quit ‘one day’, you’ve made a kind of peace with the harmful effects that nicotine products can have on your health, or you just try not to think about it. 

If you’re pregnant, though, or trying to conceive, the stakes are much higher and it’s time to quit immediately for the sake of your child.

You may believe that smoking tobacco can’t affect your unborn child (lungs and womb are different organs, right?), or that cutting down or vaping instead will mitigate any risks.

However, your baby is likely to incur far more harm than you do when you smoke. That is, if you manage to conceive – women who smoke have more difficulty falling pregnant than women who don’t.

Tobacco is poison to your baby

“Tobacco smoking in pregnancy is very harmful, whether it's two cigarettes or 20. Even passive (second-hand) smoking is harmful,” says Dana Govender, Health Promotions Manager at the Heart & Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSFSA). “Cigarette smoking is associated with pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure, which can endanger the life of both mother and infant.”

“Additional complications can include brain and/or lung damage; interference with growth and development leading to intra-uterine growth restriction; and worst of all, sudden infant death syndrome,” adds HSFSA Health Promotions Officer Prudence Cele. “Babies of smoking mothers are also at risk for respiratory and cardiac problems.”

Vaping isn’t the answer

Vapes and other e-cigarette products might not produce ‘smoke’ – rather they produce a vapour, giving the impression of being somehow a ‘cleaner’ – but they are by no means safe. Vapes still contain nicotine. This permanently damages a baby’s developing brain and many other organs.”

There’s also no compelling evidence to suggest that vaping can help you to quit smoking. In fact, they’re just as addictive as cigarettes because they also contain nicotine. 

“Many e-cigarette users get even more nicotine than they would from a tobacco product – you can buy extra-strength cartridges, which have a higher concentration of nicotine, or you can increase the e-cigarette’s voltage to get a greater hit of the substance,” says Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease.

Keep it clean while breastfeeding, too

Nicotine and other harmful chemicals can be transferred to your baby through your breast milk, so even if you abstained during pregnancy, it is recommended that you continue to do so until your child has been weaned. 

The best thing you can do for your health and the health of your child is quit altogether. Consult your GP or your Clicks Pharmacist if you need assistance to stub out your nicotine addiction for good. 

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

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