If you are a smoker, then as soon as you told your doctor that you have fallen pregnant, then you will most likely have been advised to quit smoking. Even if this is just for the duration of your pregnancy, it is highly advisable to give up the cigarettes. Smoking can have a dramatic impact on the health and development of your unborn baby, and giving up the cigarettes now will help you to give your child the best possible start in life.
What effects can smoking have on my child?
Smoking during your pregnancy can have a wide range of detrimental effects on your unborn child. If your pregnancy was planned, then it is more likely that you will successfully give up smoking than if it was unplanned.
- Smoking doubles the risk of experiencing problems with the placenta. This can include placenta praevia, where the placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus and covers or partially blocks the cervix. The main symptom of this is vaginal bleeding during pregnancy. Placenta praevia can be managed without surgery if scans indicate that there is no sign of foetal distress; otherwise, surgery may be necessary. A Caesarean section is often necessary for the birth.
- There is also an increased risk of placental abruption. This is the early separation of the placenta, and can lead to foetal distress and a potential stillbirth if it is not diagnosed quickly. The mother may lose a significant amount of blood, and may even require blood transfusions.
- Premature birth is another extremely common complication when the mother smokes throughout the pregnancy. The risk is approximately thirty percent higher than in women who do not smoke.
- Women who smoke are more likely to experience an ectopic pregnancy than those who are non-smokers. An ectopic pregnancy is one where the embryo implants in the Fallopian tube, rather than the uterus. These pregnancies are not viable, but can be extremely dangerous for the mother if they are not identified in time. This is because the growing foetus can cause the Fallopian tube to burst; unlike the uterus, it cannot expand to hold the developing foetus as it grows.
- Incomplete development of the placenta and umbilical cord. In women who smoke, the development of both the umbilical cord and the placenta can be affected. This reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that can be transferred to the developing foetus, preventing it from growing fully. This can also lead to increased bleeding during the birth, potentially meaning that a Caesarean section and blood transfusions are required.
Effects after the child is born
Smoking does not just affect the development of the foetus before it is born. Exposure to the chemicals in cigarette smoke during foetal development can also have long term impacts that will not be seen until after the birth.
- Low birth weight. Mothers who smoked during their pregnancy are twice as likely to have a baby that is of a low birth weight. These children weigh up to two hundred grams less than those born to women who did not smoke. Low birth weight increases the risk of lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy and learning difficulties.
- Withdrawal symptoms can sometimes be seen in babies born to women who smoked throughout the pregnancy. These babies are often reluctant to settle down, and can seem to be “jittery”.
- Babies born to smokers are at a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is a death that is unexplainable, either by medical history or after a post mortem examination. It is thought that high levels of nicotine make this more likely – three times more cases of SIDS involve exposure to smoke during pregnancy.
- If the child is exposed to cigarette smoke during the prenatal development, then they are more likely to become obese in the future. This tends to be seen once the children have reached their late teenage years, where those with smoking mothers have an average of twenty-six percent more body fat than those with non-smoking mothers.
What are the benefits if I stop smoking?
Even if you have been smoking up until this point in your pregnancy, it is never too late to stop. Reducing the exposure to the harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke will help the development of your unborn child, and will also have a range of benefits on your own health.
- Cigarettes reduce the amount of oxygen that can be taken into your body, but once you stop smoking, the oxygen levels will begin to return to normal.
- You will experience fewer symptoms of morning sickness, and the risk of other complications throughout your pregnancy is reduced.
- Your baby is less likely to be underweight when it is born, which means that it will have fewer problems keeping warm, and will also be less prone to infections.
- You will find the process of giving birth easier than if you had not given up smoking.
- You are much less likely to give birth prematurely, which means you can also avoid the associated problems such as breathing and feeding difficulties.
- By stopping smoking now, you will also reduce the risk of your child experiencing health problems such as asthma and obesity later in life. Parents who do not smoke tend to have much healthier children than those who do.
What about passive smoking?
Passive smoking can have the same effects on your baby as if you were the one smoking the cigarettes. Encourage any smokers in your household to give up as well, as this will also help you to achieve your goal of quitting. If they are not prepared to quit, then see if they would stop smoking inside the house instead.
It is never too late to give up smoking, as every cigarette you smoke will have an impact on the health of your baby, both during the pregnancy and for many years in the future, possibly even the rest of the child’s life.