Smoking During Pregnancy: No Ifs, Ands, or Butts!

by Angelia Williams

One of the most important things an expecting mother can do for her unborn child is to quit smoking.

Research has shown that smoking during pregnancy can have significant negative effects on the developing fetus.

Cigarette tobacco contains approximately 2,500 chemicals that could harm an unborn baby, with nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide being the most harmful.

Effects on the Developing Fetus

Smoking has been linked to various pregnancy complications. Women who smoke have a greater chance of having an ectopic pregnancy. The embryo becomes implanted in the fallopian tube or any other abnormal place outside the uterus. In most cases, this type of pregnancy does not come to full term. A surgical procedure or drug treatment is usually recommended in order to protect the woman's life.

When a woman smokes during her pregnancy, there's a greater chance of complications with the placenta. The mother could either experience placenta previa, where the placenta attaches too low in the uterus and blocks a part of or the entire cervix, or a placental abruption, where the placenta detaches itself from the uterine wall. When either one of these problems occurs, the resulting delivery is often life-threatening for mother and child.

Some points to consider:

• Many pregnant women who smoke experience heavy vaginal bleeding, a miscarriage, and sometimes stillbirth.

• Smoking during pregnancy doubles the risk of delivering a baby with a low birth weight or having a pre-term baby; it could also be born with certain birth defects, such as a cleft lip or cleft palate.

• It has been proven that many babies exposed to smoking before birth will experience learning and behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity and shortened attention span, and may have respiratory issues, such as asthma.

Effects on the Child After Birth

The incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) increases with babies born to smoking mothers. If your child is exposed to cigarette smoke after birth, he or she may experience frequent ear infections, bouts of tonsillitis, and respiratory problems.

Smoking during pregnancy affects a mother's breast milk. Not only can it reduce a mother's supply, but the harmful chemicals can also be passed to the nursing infant, who can develop diarrhea, nausea, cramping, and vomiting from the effects. Being constantly exposed to cigarette smoke increases a child’s chances of becoming asthmatic. For children who are already afflicted with asthma, continuous exposure to smoke often worsens their condition.

How to Quit Safely

Mothers-to-be want a healthy baby. Smoking during pregnancy is dangerous and quitting should be a top priority. There are many options available to the average smoker that can help them kick the habit for good. However, a pregnant woman is not considered an "average person," and some medications or methods are not recommended.

Many doctors still prescribe the anti-smoking patch, gum, or spray to a pregnant woman, even though these products release nicotine into the body. As nicotine is only one of the many toxic chemicals found in cigarettes, this method is thought to be safer than smoking. Gums and sprays are safer than the patch as the dose of nicotine they provide is smaller than that delivered by the patch.

It is not yet known how nicotine can influence a growing fetus, or how it contributes to premature birth, low birth weight and/or other problems. If you are having trouble quitting smoking during pregnancy, speak to your doctor before trying a nicotine replacement method.

Medications vs. Natural Approach
There are a variety of medications on the market said to help smokers quit. However it is inconclusive what the effects on pregnant women would be. However, researchers do know that some medications can be passed on to a baby through breast milk, so this option is not recommended for nursing mothers.