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 pregnancy complications, some of which can be fatal for the mother or the baby. Learn about the risks of smoking while pregnant.
If you smoke and want to get pregnant, quitting the habit should be a priority. Smoking can prevent you from getting pregnant in the first place. Even in the first trimester smoking affects the health of your unborn baby. Both male and female smokers are about twice as likely to have issues with fertility 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. That means it’s known to cause cancer in humans.
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.
According to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking raises the likelihood of both early miscarriage and stillbirth. The dangerous chemicals in cigarettes are often to blame.
Other complications from smoking can lead to problems with the placenta or slow fetal development. These issues can also cause a miscarriage or stillbirth.
According to a study published in the journal PLoS One, nicotine can cause contractions in the fallopian tubes. These contractions can prevent an embryo from passing through. One possible result of this is an ectopic pregnancy. This happens when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, either in the fallopian tube, or in the abdomen. In this situation, the embryo must be removed to avoid life-threatening complications to the mother.
The placenta is the “lifeline” structure that forms during pregnancy to provide the fetus with nutrients and oxygen. Smoking is a major risk factor for several complications linked to the placenta. One such problem is placenta abruption. This is a condition in which the placenta separates from the uterus before childbirth. Placenta abruption can cause severe bleeding and threaten the life of both the mother and the baby. There’s no surgery or treatment to reattach it. Immediate medical attention may help increase the chance of a healthy birth despite placenta abruption.
Smoking is also a risk factor for placenta previa. During pregnancy, the placenta normally grows in the uterus towards the top of the womb. This leaves 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.
According to the CDC, smoking during pregnancy can cause preterm birth. That’s when a baby is born too early. 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
Smoking can also cause babies to be born with a low birth weight. This doesn’t just mean delivering a small baby. Low birth rate can also lead to other health problems and disabilities. Advances in medical care have reduced the number of deaths as a result of low birth weight. But it’s still a serious condition that can result in:
- developmental delay
- cerebral palsy
- hearing or vision ailments
In extreme cases, low birth weight can cause 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. Even women who stop smoking during their pregnancy are less likely to have babies with low birth weight than women who keep smoking.
Smoking during pregnancy raises the risk of your baby being born with birth defects. The most common types of problems are congenital heart defects and problems with the structure of the heart. Other health issues that have been linked to smoking while pregnant include cleft lip and cleft palate.
Many pregnant women still smoke despite the known risks the habit will create for themselves and their babies. 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 pregnancy complications associated with smoking is to quit.
If you smoke and are planning to get pregnant or are pregnant right now, here are some resources to help you quit:
- Read more about smoking cessation.
- Check out apps that can help you quit.
- Find smoking cessation tips and community support at www.smokefree.gov
Call the CDC's help line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW.