Smoking During Pregnancy

“Smoking is probably the number one cause of adverse outcomes for babies,” according to OB-Gyn Robert Welch.[1] It is also the number one preventable cause of death for adults.

Effects of smoking on the heart and blood vessels

  • Plaque residue build-up leads to narrowing and hardening of the blood vessels (atherosclerosis), resulting in peripheral artery disease and heart attacks.
  • Carbon monoxide interferes with the oxygen delivery system, reducing oxygen to the heart and major organs.
  • Increased possibility of blood clots and strokes.
  • Structural changes in lung tissue from chemical residue leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, emphysema, more frequent asthma attacks, and shortness of breath with little or no exertion.

Effects of smoking on fertility

  • 40% decrease in chance of conception.
  • Men: Reduced total sperm count, less fertile sperm.
  • Women: Ovaries produce fewer eggs capable of fertilization.

Cancer from smoking

  • 33% of cancer deaths and 87% of lung cancer deaths are a result of smoking.
  • Significantly higher risk of cancer of the throat, esophagus, mouth and stomach.

Effects of Smoking During Pregnancy

Cigarette smoke contains approximately 600 ingredients which produce 4,000 chemicals when burned, 60 of which are highly carcinogenic (like cyanide and lead). Smoking while pregnant sends that deadly combination straight into baby’s only source of food.

Some of the serious health conditions mother could face include:

  • cancer, heart disease, stroke, gum disease, eye diseases (which may lead to blindness), and death.
  • 20-30% increased risk of low-birth-weight (1-pack-day habit reduces weight by .5 lbs.; 2-pack-day habit reduces weight 1 or more lbs)
  • Double the chance of pre-term birth
  • Double the chance of stillbirth (dying in the womb after 20 weeks) or miscarriage (dying in the womb before 20 weeks)
  • Ectopic pregnancy (egg implants on the outside of the uterus). Baby cannot survive and can cause serious complications for the mother.
  • Bleeding from the vagina.
  • Placental abruption and placenta previa. The placenta is the source of food and oxygen for the baby. Both conditions can have very serious complications for the mother and baby, sometimes leading to death.

Effects of smoking on baby

  • Increased risk of asthma.
  • Reduced lung function.
  • Nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar go through the umbilical cord to baby’s bloodstream. Lessens oxygen to baby, slows growth, damages baby’s heart, lungs, and brain.
  • Birth defects, including cleft lip or cleft palate.
  • Problems in overall health.

Effects of smoking on the baby’s body and lungs

  • Undersized, underdeveloped respiratory and digestive systems.
  • Lungs don’t work on their own, continuous breathing problems, delayed lung development, increased asthma.
  • Doubles risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (unexplained death under 1 year old).
  • When mother smokes in first trimester, 20-70% more likely to have a heart defect at birth.
  • Increased risk of learning disorders, behavioral problems, and low IQ.

How Can The Mother Help?

Quit smoking! Any reduction in smoke to the baby is helpful, but quitting is best.

Those who quit during the first trimester raise the odds of a healthy full-term, full-weight baby to almost the same as mothers who never smoked. In the second trimester, odds are improved but not as significantly.

Tips To Stop Smoking

  • Write a list of reasons you’re quitting.
  • Choose a day; then throw away all smoking accessories.
  • Call someone for support when needed.
  • Avoid places where you used to smoke.
  • Do something with your hands.
  • Chew something, like gum or low-fat snacks.
  • Drink water.
  • Ask the doctor for prescription, if needed.
  • Join nonsmoking programs.


Welch summed up smoking during pregnancy with a wish that it’s better that more pregnant women had diabetes or high blood pressure.
“I can control those conditions with medications,” Welch said, “but when a woman smokes, nothing can protect her baby from danger.”


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