Smoking and the 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's never too late to stop smoking. 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, so their heart has to beat harder every time you smoke.
Benefits of stopping smoking in pregnancy
Stopping smoking will benefit both you and your baby immediately. Harmful gases like carbon monoxide and other damaging chemicals will clear from your body. When you stop smoking:
- you will have fewer complications in pregnancy
- you are more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby
- you will reduce the risk of stillbirth
- you will cope better with the birth
- 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 called sudden infant death (find out about reducing the risk of cot death)
Stopping smoking will also benefit your baby later in life. Children whose parents smoke are more likely to suffer from asthma and other more 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.
Second-hand (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.
Second-hand smoke can also reduce 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 the first year of life. More than 17,000 children under the age of five are admitted to hospital every year because of the effects of second-hand smoke.
To find out more about quitting and to get support, your partner can call the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0800 0224 332.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
You can use NRT during pregnancy if it will help you stop smoking, and you're unable to so 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 nicotine when you would have had a cigarette.
You can be prescribed NRT during pregnancy by your GP or an NHS stop smoking adviser. Or you can buy it over the counter without a prescription from a pharmacy.
NRT is available as:
- an inhalator
- nasal spray
- mouth spray
Before using any of these products, speak to your midwife, GP, a pharmacist or a specialist stop smoking adviser.
By getting this specialist advice you can be sure that you are doing the best for your baby and best for you. For more information, call the NHS pregnancy stop smoking advice line on 0300 123 1044. Remember, you are twice as likely to be successful at quitting if you get some support from a trained adviser.
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 bed time. If you have pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, you should not use patches. Another form of NRT should be considered.
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.
Read more about stop smoking treatments.
NHS Smoking Helpline
The NHS Smoking Helpline is open 9am-8pm Monday to Friday, and 11am-5pm at weekends. The helpline on 0800 123 1044 offers free help, support and advice on stopping smoking, including when you're pregnant, and can give you details of local support services. You can also sign up to receive ongoing advice and support at a time that suits you.
You can find out more about the effects of smoking in pregnancy, and getting support to quit, on the Smokefree pregnancy and smoking pages.
You can talk to your midwife, health visitor, practice nurse or pharmacist for advice and for details of your nearest NHS Stop Smoking service. They can offer one-to-one or group sessions with trained stop smoking advisers and may even have a pregnancy stop smoking specialist.
They can also offer advice about dealing with stress, weight gain and support the use of nicotine replacement therapy (such as patches or gum) if appropriate to help you manage your cravings.