Pregnancy tip

Whatever stage of pregnancy you’re at, it is never too late to give up or cut down.

Smoking during pregnancy

Find out more about the effects of smoking during pregnancy. We look at stopping smoking when pregnant and outline what support is available.

This article covers:
Effects of smoking in pregnancy

Stopping smoking when pregnant

Benefits of stopping smoking while pregnant

Nicotine replacement therap
Secondhand smoke and pregnancy
Further information

For many women, smoking represents a brief escape from the pressures of everyday life. However, it’s common knowledge that smoking is bad for health, and smoking during pregnancy can harm a woman’s unborn baby. Knowing the effects of smoking during pregnancy doesn’t necessarily make giving up any easier, but there are many sources of support available.

Many women do feel more motivated to stop smoking when they find they’re pregnant. It’s worth getting any support you think may help from family and friends or from specialist health workers. If your partner smokes as well, it can really help to stop together.

If you really feel you can’t give up completely, cutting down the amount you smoke during pregnancy will help to reduce the risk to your baby. The effects of the chemicals and lack of oxygen transported to your baby when you smoke a cigarette are ‘dose-related’. This means that the more you smoke the greater the damage. The damage, however, is quickly reversed when you stop smoking.

Effects of smoking in pregnancy

Cigarettes restrict the essential oxygen supply to your baby and contain over 4,000 chemicals, so protecting your baby from tobacco smoke is one of the best things you can do to give your child a healthy start in life. There is evidence that a baby born to a woman who smokes is:

  • Twice as likely to be born prematurely
  • More likely to suffer from placenta problems around the time of birth
  • Three times more likely to be underweight at birth, even if they are born on time
  • More likely to be a victim of cot death.

Children whose parents smoke are more likely to suffer later on from illnesses that need hospital treatment, such as asthma. They’re also more likely to take up smoking themselves.

It can be hard to admit to midwives or your doctor that you smoke, because there is so much pressure not to smoke when you are pregnant. But the staff are there to help you, not to make judgments, and you are likely to find that they are keen to give you support in stopping. Whatever stage of pregnancy you’re at, it is never too late to give up or cut down - you and your baby will benefit immediately.

Stopping smoking when pregnant

Research shows that more people succeed in stopping smoking if they stop completely, rather than cutting down gradually – this seems to prolong the cravings.

If you are planning to stop here are several points which have helped others:

  • Decide on a day and stick to it. Think about whether it would be better while you are at work, on a weekend, when you are out a lot of the time or visiting someone who doesn’t smoke. Once you’ve decided, stop completely on that day.
  • Get rid of any cigarettes you have the day before.
  • Calculate how much money you are saving and invest it for after the birth.
  • If your partner smokes, it makes so much sense to stop together, as soon as you know you are pregnant. If your partner doesn’t feel able to stop, it might help for you both to talk to your midwife or GP. You can also ask friends for understanding and support.
  • Think about changing the habits which you normally associate with smoking, and plan ahead if you know there are situations where you would be very tempted to smoke.
  • Take it one day at a time and reward yourself for success.
  • You’re up to four times more likely to quit successfully with NHS support. Your midwife, health visitor, practice nurse or pharmacist will have advice and for details of your local NHS Stop Smoking Service.

You can ask your midwife about help available locally in stopping smoking while pregnant, including your local NHS Stop Smoking Service. They can offer advice about dealing with stress, weight gain, and using nicotine replacement therapy to help manage cravings. They may offer one-to-one or group sessions with trained stop smoking advisers. They will also be able to give you details of local support groups, leaflets and other sources of advice.

Nicotine replacement therapy

The evidence on whether nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) actually helps women to stop smoking during pregnancy is mixed. The best research study found no evidence that it is effective, or that it affected the baby’s birthweight. It is not clear that nicotine skin patches or nicotine chewing gum are safe during pregnancy, but they may be safer than continuing to smoke. You can talk this through with your doctor. If you do use patches, it is recommended that you take them off before going to bed.

Benefits of stopping smoking when pregnant

It’s important to know that as soon as you stop smoking, both you and your baby will be better off straight away. Carbon monoxide and chemicals will clear from the body and oxygen levels will return to normal. In addition:

  • you’re more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby and have fewer complications in pregnancy
  • you are likely to cope better with the birth
  • you have a reduced risk of stillbirth
  • your baby may cope better with any birth complication
  • your baby is less likely to be born underweight and have problems keeping warm.
  • your baby is less likely to be born too early and have the extra breathing, feeding and health problems which often go with prematurity.

The first few days without cigarettes may not be much fun, but the symptoms are a sign your body is starting to recover. You can think about the reasons you stopped, the money you’re saving or how much you’re helping your baby. Some women find looking at the picture of their baby on the scan or talking to their baby can help when going through tough times and withdrawal symptoms.

Secondhand smoke and pregnancy

If your partner or anyone else in your house smokes, their smoke can affect you and the baby both before and after birth. You are also likely to find it’s more difficult to quit. Secondhand smoke can cause low birth weight and cot death. Babies whose parents smoke are more likely to be admitted to hospital with respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

Page last updated: 29 January 2013

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

Smokefree offers NHS information on smoking in pregnancy inlucding a pregnancy support DVD, cost calculators, 'stressbuster for the mind' and 'stress-buster for the body' MP3 downloads and a Quit app to help with support and encouragement. 

Smokefree also offers information specifically for fathers

NHS Pregnancy Smoking helpline is on 0800 169 9 169. The helpline is open Mon to Fri 9am to 8pm and Sat and Sun 11am to 5pm. You can also sign up to receive ongoing advice and support at a time that is convenient for you.

QUIT is the UK charity that helps smokers to stop and young people to never start. Information on smoking in pregnancy is available as is information  specifically for young smokers. 

Quitbecause offers information specifically for young smokers.

In June 2010, NICE published public health guidance on quitting smoking in pregnancy and following childbirth. The guidance How to stop smoking in pregnancy and following childbirth guidance updates recommendations on smoking in NICE's clinical guideline on antenatal care.