Smoking while pregnant: The effects on your baby

Babies whose moms smoke are at higher risk of prematurity and birth defects

Erica Schipper, MD explains what happens when you smoke while pregnant

Not so long ago you didn’t have to look to far in public to see a pregnant woman smoking cigarettes. Since the 1960s, science has connected the habit to all sorts of medical problems for the child, let alone the mom. And societal norms have also changed to make it more taboo.

That doesn’t make it any easier for the woman to quit so she can start a family. The best advice for women in that situation is to see a doctor early. Besides setting up the mom-to-be for a successful pregnancy, a gynecologist can also help women with cessation programs that help kick the smoking habit even before she conceives.

That ensures both she and her baby get a healthy start to what will be an exciting time.

In an ideal situation a woman and her partner will come to me before she gets pregnant, when they’re even considering starting their family and we can work on getting her to quit smoking before pregnancy.

Smoking risks to mom and baby

Babies whose moms smoke are at a higher risk of:

  • Low birth weight
  • Being born early and needing to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit
  • Long-term brain and lung abnormalities
  • Other birth defects, like cleft lip or an abnormality of the stomach and bowel called gastroschisis
  • Placental abruption, where the placenta separates from the uterine wall early and can cause bleeding that is life-threatening to both mom and baby

Support while quitting

The most important thing is for pregnant people to be able to ask the people around them to support them. For example, leave the room if they’re going to smoke — leave the house, preferably — and not smoke around them or their babies.

We know from addictive medicine that a craving, whether it’s for a cigarette or for an alcoholic drink or even for sugar, lasts about three to five minutes. So if she can get through one craving at a time, a lot of times that’s what it takes to quit smoking.

For help quitting, contact your Sanford Health primary care clinic or call your state’s quit line at (800) QUIT-NOW (784-8669). For deaf and hard of hearing callers, relay 711.

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Posted In Health Information, Healthy Living, Pregnancy, Women's