Smoking while Pregnant: Effects, Risks & How to Quit

Smoking During Pregnancy: Effects On You And Your Baby

Cigarettes contain multiple lethal toxins, like tar, nicotine, CO, etc. which are detrimental to health. It is additionally dangerous for pregnant women as it can easily cause damage owing to their lowered immunity in pregnancy. Smoking can be a cause of various ante-natal as well as post-natal complications such as placental problems and low birth weight.

Why is Smoking Harmful in Pregnancy?

Smoking tobacco while pregnant can affect the mother’s as well as baby’s health. The nicotine (addictive in cigarettes), CO, and various other toxins are absorbed into mother’s blood. These toxins have the potential to enter the placenta and reach the baby.

How Will Smoking Affect Your Pregnancy?

Smoking predisposes pregnant women to the following conditions:

  • Pre-term delivery: Numerous studies have found a link between premature births and smoking though with no concrete explanation. However, one theory is that the toxins present in cigarettes cause high blood pressure and other placental complications which induces early delivery.
  • Ectopic pregnancy: Women who smoke have a higher risk of the fertilised egg getting implanted in the fallopian tube. This can cause issues such as internal bleeding and the death of either the mother or the foetus.
  • Vaginal bleeding: Smoking causes damage to vascular endothelium (fragile uterine vessels), which leads to multiple hormonal imbalances causing Vaginal bleeding.
  • Placental pathologies such as Abruptio placenta: The placenta develops intrauterine & provides oxygen and nutrition to the baby through the umbilical cord. Abruptio placenta is a condition in which the placenta gets detached from the uterine walls during pregnancy.
  • Loss of pregnancy: Studies have shown that direct and second-hand/passive smoking increases the risk of miscarriage among pregnant women. While the exact reason eludes experts, it is believed that these toxins alter the genetic makeup of the child causing a miscarriage.
  • Difficult Labour: In a few cases, smoking might cause the uterus to contract inadequately, making it difficult to have a normal delivery.
  • Respiratory problems: Bronchitis, bronchial carcinoma may occur due to smoking, which lowers the maternal immunity.

Effects of Smoking on Baby

Active or passive smoking during pregnancy can lead to a host of problems in the newborn including:

  • Respiratory problems: Smoking has been known to cause sleep apnea as it irritates the tissues around the airways making it swell. This, in turn, increases the susceptibility to tuberculosis and asthma in later life.
  • Immune deficiencies: Cigarette smoke affects the hematopoietic stem cells, thereby lowering the immunity cells. This, in turn, makes the baby more prone to infections.
  • Congenital defects; Babies exposed to cigarette smoke due to smoking during the first month of pregnancy are more prone to have congenital problems like cleft lip, cardiac anomalies, etc.
  • Developmental issues; It hampers the physical as well as neurological growth, which may cause stunting and mental retardation. It is also an important cause of poor scholastic performance.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome(SIDS): This is a condition when the infant dies suddenly without any warning signs. While doctors are unable to find an explanation as to how smoking is responsible for this, numerous studies have shown that there is a direct correlation.

Risk of Second-hand and Third-hand Smoking While Pregnant

Even non-smokers can be affected by cigarette smoke if they are around people who smoke.

Second-hand smoking

For babies exposed to such environmental tobacco smoke, there is an increased risk of developing asthma, respiratory tuberculosis, and right-sided heart problems due to lung diseases. It is also associated with lower IQ.

Third hand smoking

This happens when the harmful residues are inhaled after a smoking session. Thus, smoking in adistant room or well-ventilated enclosure does not guarantee safety. Third-hand smoke can be harmful as the babies may develop asthma, learning problems and cancers later in life.

Can I Use E-Cigarettes When Pregnant?

Although e-cigarettes haven’t yet been extensively studied for their safety profile, researchers and clinicians worldwide suggest avoiding them when pregnant. Although it is claimed that e-cigarettes have significantly lower amounts of toxins including nicotine than regular cigarettes, these amounts may be enough to affect the foetal health. Artificial flavours and preservatives used in e-cigarettes again are subjects of concern for pregnant women.

Complications at Birth Due to Smoking During Pregnancy

  • Premature Baby: Maternal smoking may cause your baby to be born before the 37th week of pregnancy. These babies are more prone to health issues as compared to the ones delivered on or around due time.
  • Congenital defects: Structural complications like cleft lip or palate or serious vital organ defects like transposition of great arteries and ventricular septal defects.
  • Intra Uterine Growth Restriction (IUGR): Smoking may affect your baby’s physical growth as it may lead to birth weights less than 2.5 kgs. Studies have shown that this is more likely to happen to pregnant women who are older than 35 years of age although the reason is unclear.
  • Miscarriage: Cigarette smoking while pregnant increases the chances of miscarriages or abortions before 20 completed weeks of pregnancy. Stillbirth is one wherein the baby is born dead but had crossed the age of viability or 28 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): An infant (baby less than 1-year-old)’s health may deteriorate suddenly and he could die, which is known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Tips to Help You Quit Smoking

  • Dedicate a no smoke day. Dump all your smoking apparatus on this day.
  • Seek your partners help. Avoid your smoking gangs, hangouts and things that can remind you of the bad habit.
  • Engross yourself in productive activities. Make regimes for walks, jogs, yoga sessions and gym workouts. You may use light healthy snacks or chewing gums.
  • Discuss with your doctor about nicotine gums, nasal sprays, cutaneous (skin) patches and drugs.
  • Participate in social and community groups and activities that help fight smoking habit.
  • You may keep the cigarette pack, lighters and your ashtrays out of your sight
  • Volunteer and talk to people who smoke around you about the health hazards associated.
  • Do not hesitate from talking to your family or your counsellor for help and emotional support.

Benefits of quitting smoking during pregnancy

  • Good Oral hygiene: Smoking has various adverse effects on your dental hygiene.
  • Respiratory well-being: Smoking is associated with a list of respiratory problems, like COPD or bronchitis, Lung cancer, etc
  • Immunity benefits: Smoking reduces your immune capacity, making you susceptible to a host of infectious diseases, like tuberculosis.
  • Cancer protection: Smoking is associated with malignancies of the oral cavity, larynx, bronchus and lungs.
  • Less chances of foetal malformations: Smoking can cause congenital defects or malformations in the baby.
  • Normal foetal growth and development: Smoking can cause growth retardation and neurological problems in the baby.
  • Limited exposure of the child to smoke: Young children exposed to cigarette smoking by the parents in the house are more likely to take up the habit in future.
  • Prosperity of the family: Smoking often incurs significant cost, and quitting the habit can also lead to peace in the house.

Does Smoking During Pregnancy Cause Problems?

Young women often have a query whether it is safe to smoke during pregnancy? To eliminate all myths and doubts, No, it isn’t safe to smoke while pregnant. Smoking during pregnancy is dangerous as mothers who smoke are more vulnerable due to immune compromised status and this may result in low baby weights, amongst other severe complications. Such, undernourished low birth weight babies are more prone to infections and sudden deaths.


1. Can nicotine replacement products be used during pregnancy to quit smoking?

Nicotine replacement products supply constant low dose nicotine in the bloodstream when used, reducing the craving one gets because of the nicotine in cigarettes. This nicotine in the circulation may cross the blood-placenta barrier and pass into the foetal circulation causing health hazards in the foetus. Authorities like the American college of Obs & Gyn suggests non- pharmacological treatments like smoking cessation groups and counselling before any such medical measures, and only when the nicotine risk is exceeded by the benefits in helping to quit cigarettes.

2. Can I Cut Down on Smoking During Pregnancy or Do I Have to Quit?

Smoking any kind of cigarette or cigar is potentially harmful to the mother and baby. One may find it difficult to quit smoking instantly and may wish to gradually cut down on the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Clearly, the less the number of cigarettes smoked the lower is the risk during pregnancy. However, it is best to quit the habit as it is hazardous even in small quantities. While pregnant, the earlier you quit smoking, the safer your pregnancy becomes the ideal time to give up smoking is before you conceive.

3. What Happens if You Smoke Even After Baby is Born?

Continuation of smoking after childbirth can expose your young one to certain diseases such as:


Cigarette smoking during pregnancy predisposes the foetus to various peri-natal complications due to the toxin contents in cigarettes. Smoking is in fact, extremely harmful for the mother and the baby, and should be given up as soon as possible.

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