Smoking and your unborn baby
Protecting your baby from tobacco smoke is one of the best things you can do to give your child a healthy start in life. It can be difficult to stop smoking, but it's never too late to quit.
Every cigarette you smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, so smoking when you are pregnant harms your unborn baby. Cigarettes can restrict the essential oxygen supply to your baby. As a result, their heart has to beat harder every time you smoke.
Benefits of stopping smoking in pregnancy
Stopping smoking will help both you and your baby immediately. Harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide, and other damaging chemicals will clear from your body. When you stop smoking:
- you will reduce the risk of complications in pregnancy and birth
- you are more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby
- you will reduce the risk of stillbirth
- your baby is less likely to be born too early and have to face the additional breathing, feeding and health problems that often go with being premature
- your baby is less likely to be born underweight: babies of women who smoke are, on average, 200g (about 8oz) lighter than other babies, which can cause problems during and after labour. For example they are more likely to have a problem keeping warm and are more prone to infection
- you will reduce the risk of cot death, also known as sudden infant death syndrome
Stopping smoking now will also help your baby later in life. Children whose parents smoke are more likely to suffer from asthma and other serious illnesses that may need hospital treatment.
The sooner you stop smoking, the better. But even if you stop in the last few weeks of your pregnancy this will benefit you and your baby.
Secondhand (passive) smoke harms your baby
If your partner or anyone else who lives with you smokes, their smoke can affect you and the baby both before and after birth. You may also find it more difficult to stop if someone around you smokes.
Secondhand smoke can also reduce the baby's birthweight and increase the risk of cot death. Babies whose parents smoke are more likely to be admitted to hospital for bronchitis and pneumonia during their first year.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
You can use NRT during pregnancy if it will help you stop smoking, and you're unable to stop without it. It's not recommended that you take stop smoking tablets such as Champix or Zyban during pregnancy.
NRT contains only nicotine and none of the damaging chemicals found in cigarettes, so it is a much better option than continuing to smoke. It helps you by giving you the nicotine you would have had from a cigarette.
You can be prescribed NRT during pregnancy by your doctor or an stop smoking adviser. You can also buy it over the counter without a prescription from a pharmacy.
NRT is available as:
- nasal spray
- mouth spray
- oral strips
If you have pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, patches may be a better solution.
NRT patches should be used for no more than 16 hours in any 24-hour period. The best way to stick to this is to remove the patch at bedtime.
Before using any of these products, speak to your midwife, doctor, a pharmacist or a specialist stop smoking adviser.
Liquorice-flavoured nicotine products
Pregnant women are advised to avoid liquorice-flavoured nicotine products. Although there is no known risk with small amounts of liquorice flavouring, the manufacturers advise caution.
This caution is based on information on the adverse effects associated with excessive amounts of liquorice root. As other flavours are available, pregnant women are advised to select an alternative, such as fruit or mint.
E-cigarettes in pregnancy
E-cigarettes allow you to inhale nicotine through a vapour rather than smoke. Cigarettes deliver nicotine along with thousands of harmful chemicals. By itself, nicotine is relatively harmless.
E-cigarettes do not produce tar and carbon monoxide, two of the main toxins in cigarette smoke. Carbon monoxide is particularly harmful to developing babies. The vapour from an e-cigarette does contain some of the potentially harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke, but at much lower levels.
E-cigarettes are fairly new and there are still some things we don't know. However, current evidence on e-cigarettes indicates they are much less risky than smoking.
If using an e-cigarette helps you to stop smoking, it is much safer for you and your baby than continuing to smoke.
Unlike NRT, such as patches and gum, e-cigarettes are not available on NHS prescription. If you want to use an e-cigarette, you can still get free expert help from a stop smoking adviser.