Have you just recently found out you are pregnant? Congratulations on your good news! Becoming pregnant, especially for the first time, is a truly life changing event. Along with the jubilation and celebrations, the sense of responsibility for the newly pregnant woman is enormous. Suddenly, you have a life growing inside your body that is completely dependent on you for its development. If you are a smoker, you are now faced with a dilemma – should you quit smoking whilst pregnant?
The answer, as you may innately already know, is a resounding yes. Many health complications that impact both the pregnant woman and the foetus she is carrying can result from smoking whilst pregnant.
For example, the chance of an ectopic pregnancy, where the foetus develops outside the uterus, is increased for a woman who smokes. The risk of impaired growth of the placenta (the placenta being your baby’s source of nutrients), is also higher. Placental problems such as placenta praevia, where the placenta blocks the opening of the cervix, and placenta abruption, where the placenta separates from the uterine wall before the delivery of the foetus, are more common amongst women who continue to smoke whilst pregnant. Additionally, there is also a higher chance of stillbirth, miscarriage and premature labour.
Apart from pregnancy complications, foetal development, especially in the baby’s brain and lungs, is also negatively affected by smoking. Low birth weight is twice as likely, while the risk of a cleft lip and cleft palate is also increased. Each cigarette you smoke exposes your unborn child to harmful chemicals and reduced oxygen supply. Foetal movements are reduced for a minimum of an hour after smoking, clearly slowing the growth and development of the foetus.
The impact on cigarette smoking continues after the birth of your child, with your child at an increased risk of sudden unexpected infant deaths (including SIDS), infections and breathing problems. Health issues such as asthma and obesity are more likely in childhood. Conditions such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes in adulthood are associated with low birth weight, further suggesting that smoking whilst pregnant can also impact your child later in life.
Smoking during breastfeeding carries risks as well, as harmful chemicals can be passed on to your baby through your breastmilk. Research suggests lower vitamin C content in breastmilk of women who smoke and lower milk supply.
Whilst quitting cigarettes isn’t easy, the risks associated with smoking whilst pregnant are so great that it is much better to stop smoking as soon as you can. There is help out there – consult your doctor and obstetrician, who can help you identify ways to quit smoking that best suits you.