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Hazards of Smoking During Pregnancy and Beyond, Plus Tips to Quit

Dianna Graveman |30, January 2012


If you are pregnant or considering pregnancy, it is important to quit smoking as soon as you can. Even if you are not pregnant or considering it, smoking can significantly increase your risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease. It can even make it more difficult for you to conceive.

After you become pregnant, your baby will be exposed to nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar in cigarettes when you smoke, making it difficult for him to receive as much oxygen as he needs to develop properly. It can even damage his lungs before he is born.

According to the March of Dimes, women who smoke while pregnant are more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy (the embryo implants outside of the uterus), vaginal bleeding, placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the uterine wall before the baby is born), placenta previa (the placenta's position blocks the opening of the uterus), and stillbirth.

Even if the pregnancy develops normally, there are still health risks for the baby after she is born. Children born to smoking mothers are more likely to have a cleft lip or palate, be born prematurely, or be of low birth weight. Those who are born prematurely with low birth weight are at higher risk for cerebral palsy, intellectual and developmental disabilities, learning disorders, and even death. Even secondhand smoke during pregnancy (when a spouse or other family member smokes in proximity to the mother) can cause a baby to be born with low birth weight.

If the mother continues to smoke after the pregnancy ends, her baby will likely be exposed to secondhand smoke, increasing the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). A young child whose mother smokes is more likely to develop asthma, pneumonia, ear infections, and bronchitis. The secondhand smoke can even slow down the growth of his lungs.

While some women may think the answer is to switch to a milder brand of cigarettes or cut down on how much or often they smoke, the best action is to stop smoking entirely. Even after your baby is born, simply smoking in another room away from your baby will not keep him completely safe from the effects of cigarettes. Studies have shown there is something called thirdhand smoke. This is defined as the toxic materials that cling to clothing, furniture, carpets--even human hair--long after a smoker has left a room or finished a cigarette. These particles, which include carbon monoxide, lead, and arsenic, are what cause an odor to remain in a car or on the clothes of a smoker.

Of course, quitting smoking is not easy for most. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources suggests that a combination of methods works best for most smokers who want to quit permanently. The first step is to get ready by setting a "quit date." Then get rid of all cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays in your home. Do not allow anyone else to smoke in your home.
The second step is to get help. Ask your family members and friends to support you. Talk to your healthcare provider. You can also call the "quit line" in your state by dialing 1-800-QUITNOW to help you set up a plan. The quit line service is free.

The third step is to get some kind of medicinal help, whether it is nicotine gum, nicotine patch, or a prescription from your healthcare provider for a nicotine inhaler, nasal spray, or other type of medicine. According to the CDC, most insurance companies will pay for these prescriptions.
Finally, it is suggested that you avoid drinking alcohol or being around other smokers. Eat healthy, exercise, and don't be too hard on yourself if you slip up and smoke a cigarette. Don't let it make you give up--try again! You and your baby are worth it.

Find out more:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality):
March of Dimes (
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (

Dianna Graveman is a St. Louis writer, editor, educator, and mother of three. Her work has appeared in many print and online publications. Visit her website at or her blog at

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