Wonder about the risks of smoking during pregnancy? How to quit? Whether stop-smoking products are safe for the baby? Here's what you need to know about smoking and pregnancy.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Smoking and pregnancy don't mix well — but you can take steps to boost your odds of quitting for good. Start by getting answers to the most common questions about smoking during pregnancy.

You probably know the general risks of smoking — from smelly clothes and wrinkles to heart disease and lung cancer.

If you smoke and you're planning to become pregnant, however, you have even more incentive to quit. Smoking appears to have many negative effects on fertility for both men and women, and might make it harder to become pregnant. Smoking is also linked with a greater risk of ectopic pregnancy — when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube.

Smoking during pregnancy exposes a baby to many harmful chemicals, including carbon monoxide. These chemicals limit the baby's supply of oxygen and the delivery of nutrients. Smoking during pregnancy has also been linked with many health problems, including:

  • Problems with the placenta
  • A reduction in birth weight
  • Preterm premature rupture of the membranes — when the amniotic sac leaks or breaks before week 37 of pregnancy
  • Premature birth
  • Certain birth defects
  • Pregnancy loss

Smoking during pregnancy can also affect a baby after he or she is born, increasing the risk of:

  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Colic
  • Asthma
  • Childhood obesity

Some research also suggests that smoking during pregnancy might affect a child's emotional development, behavior and ability to learn. Smoking during pregnancy might even impair a child's own fertility.

Breathing secondhand smoke during pregnancy can also affect your baby's health. Women who don't smoke but are exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk of pregnancy loss or having a baby who has a low birth weight or a birth defect.

Absolutely. If you smoke, quitting is the best way to give your baby a healthy start. If you quit in the first four months of pregnancy, you might lower your risk of having a low birth weight baby to that of a nonsmoking woman. Quitting smoking can also reduce the risk of premature birth, pregnancy loss, infant death and other complications.

Reducing the amount you smoke during pregnancy is a step in the right direction, but quitting will have the most impact on your health and your baby's health.

A 2014 study suggests that supplemental vitamin C taken by women smokers during pregnancy might help reduce some of the negative effects on newborn pulmonary function. However, these positive effects were small and found only for the first year of life. Quitting smoking should be the goal for every pregnant smoker.

The safest way to quit smoking during pregnancy is without the aid of medication. Start by consulting your health care provider for advice or seeking counseling. Then consider these practical tips:

  • List the reasons you want to quit, such as protecting your baby's health.
  • Get rid of all smoking materials.
  • Avoid situations that make you want to smoke.
  • Spend time with people who don't smoke, and visit places where smoking isn't allowed.
  • Wait out cravings by running an errand or eating a healthy snack.
  • With your health care provider's OK, use physical activity to manage withdrawal symptoms.
  • Make sure you have someone you can talk to for support.
  • Set a goal and create a reward for meeting it. For instance, if you quit for a certain length of time, use what you would have spent on cigarettes to buy something for the baby.

If you're still having trouble quitting smoking, ask your health care provider about nicotine replacement products — such as a nicotine patch or inhaler, or nicotine gum, lozenges or nasal spray. Using any of these products will spare your baby exposure to many of the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes. Counseling plus nicotine replacement therapy is the most effective way to quit.

Many nicotine replacement products are available over-the-counter. If you choose to use the nicotine patch, minimize your baby's exposure to nicotine by removing the patch while you sleep. As your cravings and withdrawal symptoms fade, work with your health care provider to gradually reduce the nicotine replacement over time.

If you'd rather use a non-nicotine medication to stop smoking during pregnancy, the antidepressant bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin) might be an option. Work with your health care provider to weigh the risks and benefits.

Adjusting to life with a newborn can be stressful. Many women who quit smoking during pregnancy relapse shortly after giving birth. If you quit smoking during pregnancy, recognize the risk of relapse after your baby is born and seek counseling for support.

If you smoke after giving birth, don't smoke near your baby or while you breast-feed. If you smoke and breast-feed your baby, he or she will be exposed to many harmful chemicals through your breast milk. Cigarette smoking might also decrease your milk production. Also, remember that breathing secondhand smoke poses health risks for a newborn, including an increased risk of asthma and SIDS.

Stopping smoking is rarely easy. It might take more than one try to quit for good. Remember, however, it can be done — and your entire family will reap the benefits.

March 19, 2015