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 must 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 breathing, feeding and health problems that often go with being premature
- your baby is less likely to be born with a low birth weight. Babies of smokers 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 problems keeping warm and are more likely to get infections
- you will reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as "cot death".
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 your baby before and after their birth. You may also find it more difficult to stop if someone around you smokes.
Secondhand smoke can also reduce your baby's birthweight and increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as "cot death". Babies whose parents smoke are more likely to be admitted to hospital for bronchitis and pneumonia during their first year.
To find out more about quitting and to get support, your partner can call the NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044 from 9am to 8pm Monday to Friday, and 11am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday.
Nicotine replacement therapy
You can use nicotine replacement therapy (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 a GP or an NHS 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 remember this is to remove the patch at bedtime.
Before using any of these products, speak to a midwife, GP, a pharmacist or a specialist stop smoking adviser.
By getting this specialist advice you can be sure that you're doing the best for your baby and for you.
Call the NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044 from 9am to 8pm Monday to Friday, and 11am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday.
Remember, you are twice as likely to be successful at quitting if you get some support from a trained 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 about the adverse effects associated with excessive amounts of liquorice root. As other flavours are available, pregnant women are advised to choose an alternative, such as fruit or mint.
Find out more about stop smoking treatments.
E-cigarettes in pregnancy
E-cigarettes are fairly new and there are still some things we do not know. However, current evidence on e-cigarettes indicates they are much less risky than smoking.
Cigarettes deliver nicotine along with thousands of harmful chemicals. E-cigarettes allow you to inhale nicotine through a vapour rather than smoke. By itself, nicotine is relatively harmless.
E-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, the 2 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.
If using an e-cigarette helps you to stop smoking, it is much safer for you and your baby than continuing to smoke.
Unlike nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as patches or gum, e-cigarettes are not available on an NHS prescription. If you want to use an e-cigarette, you can still get free expert help from a stop smoking adviser.
Call the NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044 for more information, or ask a midwife to refer you.
Find out more about using e-cigarettes to stop smoking.
NHS Smokefree helpline
The NHS Smokefree helpline offers free help, support and advice on stopping smoking 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.
NHS Smokefree helpline: 0300 123 1044
9am to 8pm Monday to Friday, and 11am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday.
To find your nearest NHS Stop Smoking service talk to:
- a midwife
- a health visitor
- a nurse at your GP surgery
- a pharmacist
NHS Stop Smoking services can offer 1-to-1 or group sessions with trained stop smoking advisers and may have a pregnancy stop smoking specialist.
They can also offer advice about dealing with stress, weight gain and support the use of NRT (such as patches or gum), if appropriate, to help you manage your cravings.
Find out more about the effects of smoking in pregnancy, and getting support to quit, at Start4Life.
Find more advice on how to stop smoking.
Get Start4Life pregnancy and baby emails
Sign up for Start4Life's weekly emails for expert advice, videos and tips on pregnancy, birth and beyond.
Video: should I give up smoking?
In this video, a midwife explains how smoking can harm your baby.
Media review due: 5 February 2023