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Smoking during pregnancy

Smoking during pregnancy is harmful for your baby. Find out about the effects of smoking in pregnancy plus tips and suggestions on how to stop smoking when pregnant

This article covers the following topics on smoking and pregnancy:

Effects of smoking during pregnancy
How to stop smoking when pregnant
Tips and suggestions from other people who've quit
Can I use nicotine patches when I’m pregnant?
Secondhand smoke and pregnancy
Can I use electronic cigarettes during pregnancy?
Further information

Giving up smoking is not an easy thing to do but many women feel more motivated to stop smoking when they find out they’re pregnant. Stopping smoking is one of the most beneficial things you can do to improve your health, as well as the health, growth and development of your baby.

And you don’t have to do it alone. Talk to your partner, family, friends, and specialist health workers about support. If your partner smokes as well, it can make a huge difference quitting together. There are lots of sources of support available to keep you motivated when you need it most.

Effects of smoking during pregnancy

Knowing the effects of smoking during pregnancy doesn’t necessarily make giving up any easier but it can provide an added motivation – the health and well-being of your baby.

Smoking just one cigarette can expose a pregnant woman and her baby to over 4,000 chemicals. In addition, tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that pass through the placenta from a mum to her baby.

The levels of carbon monoxide (CO) are also higher in women who smoke and those who are exposed to smoke. This is significant because CO is a poisonous gas that restricts the amount of oxygen that a baby can get.

As a result of all of this, there are several harmful effects of smoking while pregnant which include:

  • Miscarriage
  • Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy growing outside of womb)
  • Stillbirth (baby dying in womb or shortly after giving birth)
  • Birth defects in babies
  • Premature birth (birth of babies before 37 weeks of pregnancy)
  • Low birth weight
  • Sudden infant death syndrome or cot death
  • Increased risk of infant mortality

Babies and children whose mums smoked during pregnancy are also at increased risk of:

  • Asthma, chest and ear infections, pneumonia and bronchitis.
  • Psychological problems in childhood, such as attention and hyperactivity problems and negative behaviour.
  • Performing poorly at school.

The good news is that whenever a woman stops smoking during pregnancy, all the risks described above are reduced.

How to stop smoking when pregnant

Research shows that a higher proportion of women stop smoking during pregnancy than at other times in their lives. If you tried to quit before, this could be the best time to try again.

If you smoke or have recently stopped smoking (within the last two weeks) during pregnancy, you will be referred to a specialist midwife or Stop Smoking adviser for support. Usually, the stop smoking service team will offer you one-to-one appointments and suggest ways to help cope with the cravings and withdrawal symptoms that may develop when you stop smoking.

If your partner or close family members also smoke, they can support you by stopping smoking too. This will improve the chances of you successfully stopping and, like you, they will be offered help and encouragement to stop.

Your midwife and GP will be supportive. It can be hard to admit to healthcare professionals that you smoke but they are there to help you, not pass judgment, and they will be 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.

Tips and suggestions from other people who've quit

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 some tips and suggestions from people who have managed to quit:

  • Decide on a day and stick to it. Think about whether it would be better while you’re at work, on a weekend, when you’re out a lot 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 as a treat for you or your baby.
  • If your partner smokes, it makes so much sense to stop together, as soon as you know you’re 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 that 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.
  • Some women find looking at their scan pictures or talking to their baby can help them during tough times and cope with withdrawal symptoms.

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 details of your local NHS Stop Smoking Service.

Second-hand smoke and pregnancy

Even if you don’t smoke, if the people around you smoke it can affect you and your baby both before and after birth. This is called second-hand smoke or passive smoking and there are many risks for unborn babies including:

  • Stillbirth
  • Preterm birth
  • Poor health and growth of baby
  • Low birth weight

To reduce the impact of passive smoking, ask smokers to smoke outside the house or car and try to stay away from them.

Can I use nicotine patches when I’m pregnant?

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) take the form of patches, chewing gum, lozenges or mouth spray, which give ‘clean’ forms of nicotine and are considered safe and effective aids for someone who wants to stop smoking.

NRT is safer to use in pregnancy than smoking because it doesn’t contain poisonous substances, such as CO or tar, and provides some nicotine to help cope with withdrawal symptoms.

The NRT dose is gradually reduced to decrease the intake of clean nicotine until smokers can comfortably stop NRT without experiencing excessive withdrawal symptoms.

Can I use electronic cigarettes during pregnancy?

The use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) is increasing and is a popular alternative to tobacco smoking. However, there might be harmful substances alongside the nicotine, which is not controlled. For this reason, the use of electronic cigarettes is not recommended during pregnancy, as the long-term risk to unborn babies is unknown.

You can do it

The first few days without cigarettes may not be much fun, but the symptoms are a sign your body is starting to recover. Keep thinking about the reasons you stopped - your health and your baby’s. It will be worth it.

Last reviewed and updated: March 2018

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 that are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

The NHS Smokefree helpline is open 9am-8pm Monday to Friday, and 11am-4pm at weekends. The helpline on 0300 123 1044 offers help, support and advice on how to stop smoking during pregnancy and can provide details of local support services. You can find more information on the effects of smoking and support on quitting to smoke on the NHS Smokefree pages. Smokefree also offers information specifically for dads.

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.