How smoking harms you and your baby during pregnancy

Smoking is never a good idea, particularly when you're pregnant. Read on to find out why it's bad – and kick the habit today!

30 January 2012
by The Clicks Health Team

You have a beautiful new miracle growing inside you. Surely you would want this baby to have a healthy opportunity at life? Time and time again, research has shown that cigarette smoking does have adverse effects on the foetus and these effects will follow the baby into the early years of its life.

Your developing baby can only gain from your decision to stop smoking. Remember: When you smoke, so does your baby.

The facts about smoking

  • Cigarette smoke contains more than 4 000 chemicals, including truly nasty things like cyanide, lead, and at least 60 cancer-causing compounds.
  • While none of those 4000 plus chemicals are good for your baby it is important to note that there are two compounds that are especially harmful: nicotine and carbon monoxide. It has been identified that these two toxins are possibly known to account for most smoking-related complication in pregnancy - in some cases genetic damage.
  • When smoking during pregnancy, that toxic brew gets into your bloodstream, your baby's only source of oxygen and nutrients.
  • Smoking reduces the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the foetus.
  • Nicotine impairs the absorption of calcium, vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals required by a developing foetus.
  • Women who smoke are nearly twice as likely to deliver low birth weight babies, that is, infants who weigh less than two and a half kilograms.
  • These babies are more likely to have health and developmental problems after birth.
  • You may have been told that by stopping smoking you will be causing your baby too much stress. In fact the opposite is true: Smoking causes your baby's heart rate to increase as well as its blood pressure to rise. Also the lungs have been seen to move faster.

How exactly smoking harms you and your baby

When a smoker inhales nicotine and carbon monoxide (the same gas that comes out of a car's exhaust pipe) it reaches the foetus through the placenta and prevents it from getting the nutrients and oxygen needed to grow. The carbon monoxide binds to the haemoglobin in the blood depriving the placenta of oxygen. Nicotine easily crosses the placenta and enters the foetus's bloodstream. Tests on laboratory animals have shown nicotine to cause a rise in blood pressure a faster heart rate and hypoxia (diminished oxygen).

Studies also show that mothers who smoke have an increased risk for spontaneous abortion, premature birth, stillbirth and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) as well as complications involving the placenta.

Nicotine is also known to cause stress in the foetus in many measurable ways. What cannot be measured is how the constant level of unresolved stress during pregnancy affects the later personality and behaviour of the child. In the developing foetus smoking may alter the structure of the lungs and airways, as well as interfere with the control of breathing and the developing immune system.

Prenatal exposure to nicotine can modify lung development and can cause changes that result in poor control of breathing as the infant may have diminished lower airway function. These children will be at risk for developing wheezing upon viral infection of the bronchial tree.

To this day, smoking remains one of the most controllable risk factors in pregnancy. With this in mind, is it not important to reassess your so-called 'cravings' with the health of your unborn child?

Tips to help you quit smoking

  • Set a date to stop; the sooner the better. If you are struggling, start cutting down on the number of cigarettes you are having each day.
  • Join a 'Stop Smoking' organisation and invest the time and money by going along and getting support from people who are in the same boat as you are.
  • Remind yourself that there is no better time to stop smoking than before or during pregnancy.
  • Make a list of all the good reasons for wanting to stop -- for yourself and your baby. Put it in a place where you can look at it often.
  • Have a look at other pregnant moms -- are they smoking? If so, what does it look like? Do you want people looking at you in the same light?
  • Read up as much as you can about the detrimental effects of smoking. Learn about your own smoking habits and how to cope with the urges that will occur after you stop.
  • Surround yourself with positive people who will reinforce the reasons for wanting to quit smoking.
  • Eat regular, nutritious and whole food meals.
  • Every time you have a craving -- occupy your mind with other interesting things, like what your baby is up to inside.

How Clicks can help you quit smoking

Clicks has launched stop-smoking service, GoSmokeFree​, at selected Clicks clinics.