8 Dangers of Smoking While Pregnant

The Effects of Smoking on Pregnancy and Childbirth

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  • Smoking and Pregnancy

    Smoking and Pregnancy

    Smoking and pregnancy don't mix. Smoking while pregnant puts both you and your unborn baby at risk. Cigarettes contain dangerous chemicals, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar. Smoking significantly increases the risk of a number of pregnancy complications, some of which can be fatal for the mother or baby. Learn about the risks of smoking while pregnant.

  • Getting Pregnant

    Getting Pregnant

    Quitting smoking is a critical first step if you’re trying to get pregnant. Smoking, even in the first trimester, can affect the health of your unborn baby, and it can prevent you from getting pregnant in the first place. Both male and female smokers are about twice as likely to be infertile compared to nonsmokers, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

    Secondhand smoke is just as dangerous to the fetus. The Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a group A carcinogen, which is known to cause cancer in humans.

  • Miscarriage and Stillbirth

    Miscarriage and Stillbirth

    The unexpected loss of a pregnancy is a tragic event at any stage. Miscarriages typically occur in the first three months of pregnancy. On rare occasions, they can occur after 20 weeks of gestation. This is called a stillbirth. Smoking raises the likelihood of both early miscarriage and stillbirth, with the dangerous chemicals in cigarettes often to blame. 

    Problems with the placenta or slow fetal development are also complications from smoking that can lead to a miscarriage or stillbirth.

  • Ectopic Pregnancy

    Ectopic Pregnancy

    Studies have found that nicotine can cause contractions in the fallopian tubes, preventing an embryo from passing through. One result of this is an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. It can implant in the fallopian tube itself or even in the abdomen. In this situation, the embryo must be removed to avoid life-threatening complications to the mother.

  • Placental Abruption

    Placental Abruption

    Smoking is a major risk factor for several problems with the placenta. The placenta is the “lifeline” structure that forms during pregnancy to provide the fetus with nutrients and oxygen. One such problem is placental abruption, a condition when the placenta separates from the uterus before childbirth. Placental abruption can cause severe bleeding and threaten the life of both the mother and baby. There’s no surgery or treatment to reattach the placenta, but immediate medical attention can help increase the chance of a healthy birth despite the abruption.

  • Placenta Previa

    Placenta Previa

    Smoking is also a risk factor for placenta previa. During pregnancy, the placenta normally moves with the uterus towards the top of the womb, leaving the cervix open for delivery. Placenta previa is when the placenta stays in the lower part of the uterus, partially or fully covering the cervix. The placenta often tears, causing excessive bleeding and depriving the fetus of vital nutrients and oxygen.

  • Preterm Birth

    Preterm Birth

    Smoking during pregnancy can cause preterm birth (when a baby is born too early), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are numerous health risks associated with a preterm birth. These can include:

    • visual and hearing impairments
    • mental disability
    • learning and behavioral problems
    • complications that could result in death
  • Low Birth Weight

    Low Birth Weight

    Smoking can also cause babies to be born with a low birth weight. Low birth weight doesn’t just mean delivering a small baby. It can also lead to other health problems and disabilities. Although advances in medical care have reduced the number of deaths as a result of low birth weight, it’s a serious condition that can result in developmental delay, cerebral palsy, hearing or vision ailments, and in extreme cases, even the death of the newborn. 

    According to the American Cancer Society, women who quit smoking before getting pregnant lower their risk of having a baby with a low birth weight. But even women who stop smoking during their pregnancy see benefits — they’re less likely to have babies with low birth weight than women who keep smoking.

  • Birth Defects

    Birth Defects

    Smoking during pregnancy raises the risk of your baby being born with birth defects. Congenital heart defects, problems with the structure of the heart, are the most common type of problem. Other health issues, including cleft lip and cleft palate, have also been linked to smoking while pregnant.

  • The Unfortunate Truth

    The Unfortunate Truth

    Many pregnant women still smoke despite the known risks. According to the CDC, 10 percent of women report that they smoked during the last three months of pregnancy. The only real way to avoid the pregnancy complications associated with smoking is to quit.

  • Resources to Help You Quit

    Resources to Help You Quit

    For resources to help you quit, read more about smoking cessation or check out apps that can help you quit. You can also find smoking cessation tips and community at www.smokefree.gov, or call the CDC's help line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

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