Smoking and pregnancy: Understand the risks

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.

How does smoking during pregnancy affect a baby?

Smoking during pregnancy exposes you and your baby to many harmful chemicals, which limit the baby's supply of oxygen and the delivery of nutrients. Nicotine permanently damages a baby's brain and lungs. 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

How does exposure to secondhand smoke affect pregnancy?

Breathing secondhand smoke during pregnancy can also affect your baby's health, increasing the risk of:

  • SIDS
  • Pregnancy loss
  • Low birth weight
  • A birth defect
  • Asthma attacks
  • Ear infections

Is it safe to use e-cigarettes during pregnancy?

E-cigarettes still contain harmful nicotine. They also contain a propellant — used to create vapor — that might not be safe for your baby.

Can quitting smoking during pregnancy reduce a baby's health risks?

Absolutely. If you smoke, quitting is the best way to give your baby a healthy start. Quitting smoking at any point during pregnancy can help. Your baby will begin to receive more oxygen even just one day after you quit. But quitting before week 15 of pregnancy provides the greatest benefits for your baby, and quitting before your third trimester can eliminate much of the potential impact on your baby's birth weight.

What can I do to quit smoking?

Deciding to quit is the first step. Start by consulting your health care provider for advice or seek counseling. Next, get rid of all smoking materials and make your home and car smoke-free spaces. Avoid situations that make you want to smoke. Spend time with people who don't smoke, and visit places where smoking isn't allowed. Turn to friends and family 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.

Is it safe to use stop-smoking products during pregnancy?

Talk to your health care provider about the risks and benefits of using 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.

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.

Is postpartum relapse common?

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. If you have stopped smoking but continue to use nicotine replacement while breast-feeding, use a shorter acting product such as gum or lozenges. Pump and discard breast milk you produce for three hours after using the product.

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

March 08, 2018 See more In-depth