It has been a known fact that smoking is deleterious to one’s health. With all the 4,000-plus chemicals contained in it such as cyanide, lead, and the most toxic nicotine and carbon monoxide and still other poisonous substances, one cannot help but wonder what adverse effects these can have to a pregnant woman and her baby.
Smoking while pregnant increases the risk twice for these women to suffer from pregnancy complications. This includes premature rupture of membranes (or amniotic sac), abruption placenta (early separation of the placenta from its attachment site) and placenta previa (placenta blocking the part or whole of the opening of the cervix.) All of these complications may lead to early termination of pregnancy.
Smoking during pregnancy will lead to:
Decreased oxygen availability to both the mother and baby since oxygen is replaced by carbon monoxide, and nicotine constricts blood vessels. This may result to low oxygenation of the brain, likely to result in future learning disabilities, behavioral problems and relatively low IQs.
Heart defect at birth usually results from mothers smoking during the first trimester. Increased heart rate in babies also occurs.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in February 2011 published a study that showed babies born to smoking pregnant mothers have 20-70 percent increased risk for having certain types of congenital heart defects (like right ventricular outflow tract obstruction and atrial septal defects) than babies born to non-smokers.
Increased likelihood for miscarriage and stillbirth.
On the average, pregnant smokers double their chances for preterm labor and delivery and/or low birth weight babies. About a half pound is lost from the baby whose mother smokes a pack a day during pregnancy. As much as a full pound is lost if the mother smokes 2 packs a day.
Increased probability of babies to develop breathing (respiratory) problems due to delayed lung development or from the effects of nicotine.
The more cigarettes smoked per day, the greater risk the baby will experience these and other harmful effects. However, a few sticks smoked per day do not make it more safe for both the mother and baby. A smoker’s body is highly sensitive to the first few doses of nicotine each day. Just one or two cigarettes may result to greatly tightened blood vessels. This is the reason why even a “light” habit can result to deleterious effects on the baby. Hence, no “safe level” has been established for smoking while pregnant.
Secondhand Smoking and Pregnancy
Secondhand smoke involves both the smoker’s exhaled smoke and the smoke coming from the burning cigarette itself. It is also known as passive smoke or environmental tobacco smoke.
Smoker’s inhaled smoke is less harmful than the smoke which comes from the tip of a burning cigar or cigarette. Hence, regular exposure of a pregnant woman to secondhand smoke may lead to lung cancer, respiratory infections, asthma exacerbations, allergies, and other health problems. Babies exposed also have increased risk for developing decreased lung capacity and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Quitting Smoking While Pregnant (Or Even Before Pregnancy)
Ideally, the best time to stop smoking is before conception. Doing so will make a woman conceive faster. The chance of conceiving in smoking women is decreased by about 40 percent during any particular cycle. Also, the pregnant mother will not need to struggle from quitting the habit and can focus more on keeping herself and her baby healthy.
If in case a woman has been smoking and just learned of her pregnancy, she needs not panic. It is never too late to quit smoking. Thus, taking immediate steps to stop smoking would benefit the baby greatly.
In August 2009, the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology published a report that found expectant moms who quit smoking during the first trimester of pregnancy raised their odds to giving birth to healthy full term, full-sized babies to about the same as non-smoker moms. Quitting during the second trimester will improve their odds, but not as much.
There are many ways to stop smoking. It is best, however, to still consult your physician regarding this, once a decision to relinquish this habit has been made.
Here are some suggestions that may aid a smoker to quit the habit:
Hide all smoking paraphernalia (cigars, lighters, ashtrays, etc.)
Make your home a “no-smoking zone”
Avoid being with people who smoke around you
Decrease caffeine and alcohol intake; both increase the urge to smoke
Change your routines – if you smoke after every meal, try other activities instead of smoking
Keep gums, mints or other candies on hand to replace the desire to smoke
Exercise, read a book, or do other activities to keep your mind off smoking
Inform your friends and relatives about your desire to stop the habit and ask them for support. Also, joining support groups, community groups or smoking cessation programs may help in achieving the goal.
Avoid places where a lot of people are smoking, like clubs or bars. Also, stay away from smoking areas in public places.
Nicotine Replacement During Pregnancy
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which can be in the form of a nicotine gum, patch, inhaler, lozenges, sprays or sublingual tablets, release the said substance into the bloodstream of the smoker who wants to quit the habit. Although withdrawal symptoms and cravings are markedly decreased by such products, the safety of using nicotine replacement therapy during pregnancy has not been adequately studied.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that the use of nicotine gum or patch for pregnant women be considered only after all other non-drug treatments, like counseling, have been tried and shown to have failed. Also, they may be used if the benefits of smoking cessation outweigh the effects of smoking and the unknown effects of nicotine replacement use.
In conclusion, much harm results from smoking – to both mother and baby. A decision to quit smoking may be the best gift a smoking mother can give herself and her baby. It may be difficult to do but there are ways to start and help one overcome the addiction to this habit.